Tag Archives: god

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

A McDonaldized Christianity

My doctoral dissertation addressed the sobering and declining state of Western Christianity. It explored how to motivate churchgoers to ‘get off their butts’ and become the disciples and disciple-makers they are to be. The journey led me to some interesting places, ideologically speaking. I discovered and wrote this about the consumeristic nature of much of the Church in the West: “The packaging of goods and spiritualities meant to appeal to consumers of religious experiences has been compared to McDonald’s processes. The product is a Happy Meal spirituality.” Churches can become “just one more dispenser of Happy Meals.” Now, this may not necessarily apply to your church, but I encourage you to read on and reflect.

According to author John Drane, the McDonaldized experience and church produce nominal believers. The format is appealing but empty, entertaining and spiritually tasty, but non-nutritious. John MacArthur says this about a possible contributor to the religious consumerism of faux Christians: “Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained.” Spiritual laziness is undoubtedly one side effect of this tendency.

A pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all McDonaldized approach to Christianity enables passivity. A person or team entertains a passive audience. Perhaps another person preaches at the same spectators. And the anonymity of which John MacArthur wrote, something of a Happy Meal toy, allows people to ‘slip out the back’ or avoid being held accountable for the lack of discipleship and spiritual growth. There’s another serious flaw in the McDonaldization process where it occurs in our Christianity: the loss of spiritual diversity and maturity.

Communities are born of shared values and traditions, and they are meant to meet the needs of their members. Christian communities were (and are) no exception—especially in the early days after Jesus’ ascension. Each person was required to help meet the physical needs of the Christian group (in other words, work!). They were also expected to contribute to spiritual formation, unity, and maturity based on God-given spiritual gifts and disciple-making abilities (Ephesians 4:11-16). But this kind of collective behavior must be tailored to the group’s specific needs; a pre-packaged McDonaldized Christianity that focuses on format over content and context just won’t do! It leaves little room for spiritual formation, active participation (versus passive observation), or movement by God’s Spirit.

Perhaps it’s time for a different kind of Christian diet—one that tastes good but is also spiritually nutritious. Maybe then we’ll get our butts out of the pews and behave like people who know about God AND who God knows (1Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:8-9). What’s next? Let’s uncover some of Jesus’ most excellent and applicable sayings in “Jesus Said What??” in next week’s article.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

“I Am” or “I Will Be”??

You may have heard God referred to as “The Great I AM.” In fact, Exodus 3:14 states that God is “I AM WHO I AM” in most if not all Bibles. But did God really call Himself the “I AM” in the original language as if He needed to prove His existence? Or did the Hebrew phrase mean something else? Let’s see.

About 500 years after God formed a covenant with Abram, Moses encountered God. He asked about His name in Exodus 3:13-14: “Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM;” and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

The ancient Hebrew language in Exodus 3:13-14 refers to God as Ehyeh:  “And God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.’” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’”

The Hebrew word Ehyeh was understood, and, I believe, is best translated as, “I WILL BE—not “I AM.” Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh should be understood as “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” There’s evidence showing that early Church Fathers wrote it this way. This rendering is also present in the first modern English translation of the Bible (Myles Coverdale, 1535).

Now, I realize we’re told that God is the ‘Great I Am.’ But this translation may not follow the intended meaning of the Hebrew text. And, it implies that God needs to convince people that He exists. The rendering of “I WILL BE” makes much more sense when we remember that God is a God of action, of kept promises. For instance, He will be a provider (Matthew 6:26), be a shepherd (Psalm 23), and be a healer (Exodus 15:26). Here are two other examples:

“And I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.” (Zechariah 8:8)

“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (Hebrews 8:10)

God will indeed be yours if you will be His! Reach out to take the next step! So, what will we dive into next week? We’ll explore our deadly consumeristic “McDonalds” Christianity.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Renewed Beginnings

Last week, I retold an ‘untold’ Christmas story—kind of a behind-the-scenes look at God’s peace and redemption Jesus set into motion with His arrival on earth. Because the new year began a week after Christmas, I thought we should now look at new beginnings. Here are a few examples of New Year celebrations and why we use them to make resolutions.

American/European: January 1st. We tend to gather the evening before and bring in the new year with shouts, parties, countdowns, and resolutions. And some of those parties bring regrets and spawn resolutions of their own.

Chinese (Also known as the Spring Festival): 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The idea is like that of the American and European New Year celebrations.

Jewish, Religious – Pesach (Passover): The 1st Jewish month, when the time of the covenant between God and His ‘bride’ Israel began. It was a new beginning for her.

Jewish, Agricultural – Rosh Hashanah: The 7th month of the Jewish calendar. Interestingly, while this is the official State New Year, it also closely relates to God’s covenant. This New Year begins with the Feast of Trumpets and introduces a time of repentance, forgiveness, and rest.

Because we know of the good and bad things we’ve done or that the current year has brought, the thought of a ‘better’ new year can bring anticipation of good things to come! We want to change what we don’t like; this is where ‘repentance’ (even for the non-religious) comes into play. We’re sorry for the behaviors we don’t like and, therefore, vow to change. It’s harder than it seems! Here are three guidelines for helping you achieve your dreams and goals.

First, you must set goals for yourself. Follow the SMART principle:

Specific. Be clear about what you would like to accomplish!

Measurable. How will you know whether you’re succeeding?

Attainable. You probably won’t be a millionaire by the age of 50 – especially if you’re, well, 60.

Relevant. Why try to be a better poker player if your goal is to overcome gambling addiction?

Timely. When should you achieve your goals?

Second, if you intend to have a new beginning in Christ or embrace a lifestyle change, you must PLAN to achieve your goals! To quote some silly movie line: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!”

Third, we can rarely accomplish large tasks independently, especially when dealing with weaknesses or temptations. The Spirit of God can provide strength and guidance, and accountability partners give us direction, wisdom, strength, and discipline to be successful.

Join me next week to explore whether God should be known as the “I Am” or “I Will Be.”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Christmas, the Retold Story!

Christmas is full of traditions, including the story depicting Jesus’ birth. Some renderings sport sheep, camels, and donkeys with costume-clad humans for effect. The event makes us feel good, and it can be a great time of fun and family. But is there more to the story—perhaps stuff behind the scenes that would make it more meaningful if known? Let’s see.

First, the Son of God, born a son of man, has been around since our universe’s creation (John 1:1-4).

Second, this Son of God had to become human for a reason: to restore the relationship between Creator and creation by paying the penalty for the first humans’ rebellion, and crushing evil (e.g., Genesis 3:15).

But paying the price could only be done by someone who lived sin-free. God began to send clues about this coming perfect Savior through various prophets like Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

This Prince would be born in about 4 BC and eventually crucified, as shown to the prophet Daniel 500 years before Jesus came to earth (Daniel 9:25-26). His birth brings God’s peace to people with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14), but it prompted the wrath of a man, Herod (Matthew 2:1-12). For Jesus’ safety, an angel told Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-15). How would the journey be possible? After all, travel and daily life required resources, then just as they do now. Allow me to introduce the wise men.

To fully appreciate their contribution, we must return to Persia 500 years earlier, when Daniel earned great respect and treasure. He was also well-trained in Babylonian arts, including astronomy. He knew when Jesus would be born and would’ve been familiar with Micah’s prophecy about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). 

So, Daniel, the Jew who spent his life in Persia, had treasure, knew how to chart star movements, and knew where Jesus would be born as well as the timeframe. Therefore, we should not be surprised that Persian magi (wise men) knew that Jesus would be the promised King and the alignment of the stars at the time and place of His birth. Daniel’s great wealth was likely the resource that funded Jesus’ trip to Egypt until Herod’s death. Our great God is indeed the master orchestrator who crafts all things according to His good pleasure!

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Are you interested in making a fresh start physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Perhaps you’re interested in keeping personal goals. Join me next week when we’ll readdress fresh starts in Renewed Beginnings.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Sufferer’s Holiday

Christmas is just around the corner. For most of us, the holiday brings feelings of love and good cheer. But for others, it’s a time of deep despair and suffering. How can this be?!? As it turns out, our world is broken, and often, so are we. December can bring death and grief, sickness, and poverty. Therefore, Christmas can be a sufferer’s holiday for some people. For Christians, it is also the holiday for a sufferer: Jesus Christ, the cure for our self-inflicted brokenness. By the way: I’ve been hearing that “brokenness is beautiful!” lately. Well, brokenness is NOT beautiful; it is not how we’re meant to be!

 God created a perfect world initially. There was no sickness or death, and the Creator hung out with people. But then they rebelled against Him. Things have gone downhill ever since. But the one we call Jesus Christ eventually came to earth, died, and was raised from the dead to fulfill a promise by the Creator to bring everything back to perfection: 

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

And:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

His death and resurrection bring life—the cure for what ails us spiritually—if we respond appropriately to God’s call for us to return to Him:

“and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1Peter 2:24)

Jesus the Sufferer (on our account) had first to be born as a human, hence the ‘sufferer’s holiday.’ That birth is what some of us celebrate at Christmastime. But will that be the end? No!

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)

In summary, Christmas is often a holiday when people suffer. It is always a holiday initially pointed at the one born to suffer for us. What’s next? Let’s continue our Christmas theme, but from a lighter point of view in Christmas, the Retold Story!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Dangers of Being Ill-prepared

December seventh marks the 81st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. Approximately 3,581 people were killed or wounded, 169 aircraft destroyed, and 19 ships destroyed or damaged (https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/pearl-harbor-fact-sheet-1.pdf). We must honor those who lost their lives defending our great nation! But as horrific and destructive as the attack was, the extent of the carnage was possible only because the island was unprepared for the enemy.

According to pearlharbor.org, the imminent attack appeared on newly installed radar equipment but was quickly dismissed as American aircraft (at the very least). The lack of training added to being unprepared for what was coming. Another challenge was the unpreparedness of aircraft, which were ill-parked, not fully fueled, and unarmed. As catastrophic as the December 7, 1941 events were, though, being unprepared for what will come at the end of this world will yield unimaginable physical and spiritual destruction!

In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus used a parable to foretell how unprepared humanity will be at the end of this age before the great judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). In the parable, ten potential brides (humankind) anticipate the arrival of the bridegroom (Jesus). However, half are unprepared, missing their opportunity to attend the marriage ceremony (Revelation 19:6-10). Being prepared to make it through this life and enter the one to come requires complete devotion to God. We must stay that way, loving others and being transformed. If you’re unsure how to proceed, contact me through the Taylor Press editor or at Northview Christian Church (www.nvcc.church), and I’ll happily make time for you!

Anyway, those who belong to Christ (not just know of Him!) must also stay equipped to fend off spiritual attacks. According to the apostle Paul, we can do this by donning the complete protection God offers: His truth, righteousness (God’s standard), peace, faith, salvation, and teaching (Ephesians 6:10-18). We must pray regularly and often and be alert against subtle wickedness, such as the immoralities so prevalent today.

In summary, let’s decide to return to our God before it’s too late and then stand firm and prepared to resist what He hates. What’s next? Christmas is approaching, and some of us will celebrate the birth of One who suffered on our behalf. So, let’s consider that it is The Sufferer’s Holiday.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley,

ron@ronbraley.com  || ronbraley.blog

Turning Bad Into Good!

Winter is coming. When I realized that, I probably said something like, “Man! Why?? My life is over for the next several months!” But is it?

As it turns out, winter is a necessary refreshing that gives birth to springtime and then summer. Like King Solomon wrote, “There is an appointed time for everything.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Enduring the cold, sometimes dreary weather actually makes me stronger in several ways. Now, I realize that making it through winter isn’t quite like enduring life’s hardships, but the idea is similar. Here’s what James, Jesus’ half-brother, said about faith and enduring:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3).

Sometimes, our life can feel like a perpetual winter. My sister and a good friend are working through bouts of cancer. Two other friends are unemployed and faced with potential financial hardships. I’m working through my own trials as I seek to re-enter the workforce after a several-year sabbatical and heal from a recent knee replacement. Yet, some of us are persevering—enduring—with outstanding attitudes and strong responses. That kind of character supplies hope, potentially in this life and indeed in the one to come. The apostle Paul taught the Roman Christians that their endurance through trials would produce excellent character, which would, in turn, develop hope:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Romans 5:3-4)

Don’t worry. If you’re going through trials or struggles and you’re a child of God, you have His Spirit to comfort, teach, and guide you. As with winter, remember that whatever you’re experiencing will likely end, and ‘spring’ will come. You’ve got this! But if you feel you’re losing the struggle or need a hand, seek professional help right away! What’s next? As we approach remembrance of the Pearl Harbor destruction of December 7, 1941, we’ll explore the dangers of being unprepared—spiritually, in our case.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

An Attitude of Gratitude for Latitude

The Bible reflects a grateful attitude for what God and others have done in many places! Here are a few examples:

Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. (Psalm 100:4)

Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, And tell of His works with joyful singing. (Psalm 107:21-22)

We also find a grateful apostle Paul:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Romans 1:8).

And he reminds us always to be thankful to God as we continue to ask Him to meet our needs:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

If you think about it, we can (and should!) be grateful for so many things, including family, friends, jobs, and God’s creation itself. So, expressing gratitude—especially toward God—seems to be important! Why? Giving thanks for what we receive or experience is an appropriate response that completes a transaction: you have received something, so you give something in return. And having a grateful attitude can also be physically and emotionally beneficial.

 Practicing gratitude “reinforces generous behavior, squeezes our negative feelings, and can help with depression” (https://www.heysigmund.com/the-science-of-gratitude/). Also, “research has found that we tend to feel more grateful for experiences than for things we have.” Being grateful causes us to change our focus from our issues and troubles and makes us feel better as if we’ve received an emotional ‘shot in the arm.’ I want to share one of my experiences.

In 1994, I opened an electronics repair and computer business. Naively, I wasn’t financially prepared, and my family was without money for food by early 1995. My church didn’t help. They were friendly, but not ‘kind.’ However, one of my customers, a kind Catholic woman who heard of our situation, rallied her congregation to buy groceries before, during, and after Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts for our four children. Her selfless acts were purely sacrificial and loving. Our gratitude for what she and the others in her church did gave us relief from our struggles and empowered us also be kind to others over the years.

In closing, I’ll tell you that I’m thankful for every one of you who reads and ponders my articles. They are my gift to you, and I’m grateful for your readership. What’s next? Well, let’s continue our journey of self-improvement in Turning Bad Into Good.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Fig Trees & The End of the World

“Ron, what do fig trees have to do with the end of the world and God’s judgment?” Lots! In the Bible’s New Testament, we find multiple end-of-the-world and fig events.

First, in Peter’s account that bears the name of his scribe, Mark, we find an interesting parable about Jesus cursing a fig tree on the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:12-14). Jesus picks out one tree of probably thousands to make a point about the nation of Israel. Although the figs weren’t ready to be picked (verse 13), there should’ve been fruit because there were leaves. The tree was like the Pharisees who gave an outward impression of [spiritual] fruit where none existed. Jesus, in an active parable, cursed the tree to demonstrate judgment that would come soon through Rome and at the end of this world. Think of this as a near-far prophecy revealed by Jesus with the fruitless fig tree. Are there other instances? Yep!

Second, Jesus explained days later to His disciples that any unproductive—unfruitful—person, including self-proclaimed Christians, would be destroyed in the last-days judgment:

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 15:6). Also, read Matthew 25:31-46.

Or … If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10).

So, the one who bears spiritual fruit by obeying God’s commandments will not suffer the same fate (destruction) as the cursed fig tree. Alright—one more end-of-the-world figgie thingie!

Finally, Jesus used the blossoming of the fig tree at springtime in a when you see this, you will see that comparison to explain that the generation of people to see the signs He had just prophesied in verses 14-27 will also see His return:

Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Mark 13:28-30).

I understand that some Christians believe that “this generation” in verse 30 refers to the disciples’ generation. However, “this generation” will be the one to see the end-of-the-world signs, which haven’t occurred. By the way: this fig tree instance is a Jewish idiom (figure of speech) just like Matthew 24:28 (dead bodies and vultures).

In summary, we who desire to abide with God must bear fruit or suffer destruction by our own choice. What’s next? Let’s have some fun with being thankful in all circumstances in A Gratitude Attitude for Latitude!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley