Tag Archives: hell

To Be or Not to Be!

“To be or not to be—that is the question!” This quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet meant to ponder whether to live or die. This week’s article is similar, and it addresses ‘being’ in God’s Kingdom: Be and live . . . or don’t be and [spiritually] die. But be what? And what matters more: words or actions; speech or Christianity in motion?

The answer should be obvious, but let’s have fun getting there. Words can be cheap or useless—especially if there’s no accompanying action. It’s more about what we do, not what we say. And if our words don’t match our actions or are venomous, we may keep people from God’s Kingdom by making it unattractive or out of reach!

Don’t say you love—be loving. Don’t say ‘Jesus is Lord’—make Him Lord by devoting all you have and are to Him (this complete devotion is what we confess in Romans 10:9). Don’t throw out a bunch of Christianese people don’t understand and call it evangelism! SHOW them God’s Kingdom through charity, justice, and mercy, using words when it makes sense—and only meaningful terms and relative examples! If you feel adventurous, Google the Letter to Diognetus.

In it, an early first-century Church father (most likely Clement) tells Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ tutor about the behavior of persecuted Christians who lived according to Jesus’ teachings and God’s ways within their communities. The focus was on the behavior of Christians who didn’t isolate themselves but brought God’s Kingdom near to the people in their cultures by ‘being.’ No bullying. No programs. No Chick Tracts. Now, THAT’S an attractional Church!

We, too, can ‘be’ in what I call ‘be-attitudes’ (yes, I meant the pun!).

  • Be truthful. “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices . . .” (Colossians 3:9)
  • Be charitable.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 – see also James 2:14-26 and Ephesians 2:10)
  • Be just and merciful. “. . . And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
  • Be sexually pure and active in response to God’s gift of life. “. . . For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

In summary, ‘be’ according to God’s desires and live. Be what? Truthful, charitable, merciful, pure, and wholly devoted to God. Now that we know ‘being’ is way better than ‘not being,’ let’s check out what we’re NOT to be as we define and dig into the origin of sin in a multi-part “There’s nothing original about sin!”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Be Careful Little Eye What You See, Ear What You Hear!

As a little boy, I (and probably many of you!) learned a song that began: “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see . . . Oh, be careful little ears what you hear . . .”

I’ve learned the value of guarding what I see and hear. Take in good things, and good things will likely come out. The opposite is akin to the programming concept of “garbage in, garbage out.” Regardless, the more we take the same things in, the more we become them. Why? Neuroplasticity. The brain remaps itself based on practices and preferences. Feed it garbage, and you’ll likely become garbage in thought and deed. This is likely the case here:

“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie . . . God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural . . . men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another . . . God gave them over to a depraved mind . . .” (Romans 1:25-28).

 The ears? We listen to what sounds (or feels) good and were warned that people will chase whatever sounds good in the last days (2 Timothy 4:3).

The eyes? Jesus explained in Matthew 6:22-23 that what we watch reflects our inner being: “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. . . .” Pornography and its sexual immoralities. Violence. Gossip. Conspiracies. You get the idea. The eyes and ears can cause spiritual death if we’re not careful.

But there’s a way out. We don’t have to habitually take in what will kill us spiritually. Jesus teaches that we are to remove stumbling blocks—those practices that will keep us from God’s Kingdom: “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 18:9; 5:29)

How? We can, like Job, make a righteous deal with our eyes and ears (Job 31:1 NIV) to not “look at anything vile and vulgar.” (Psalm 101:3) Here’s Paul’s advice: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatian 5:17). Discipline yourself to see, hear, and practice good things and live, or choose depravity and die. Let me know if I can help you decide!

In summary, be careful little eye what you see, ear what you hear, to enter the coming age! In the following article, we’ll uncover that Jesus died to make that possible for you.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley, MDiv, DMin.

Weed Patrol – 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 Future: Jesus in the Feast of Atonement

The fall feasts of God celebrate and look forward to rescue and rest. They occur in September or October, depending on the near-total darkness of the sun and moon over Israel and begin with the Feast of Trumpets, which marks the new year and is called the ‘in-gathering.’ In the future, it will announce the rescue of God’s people before His judgment, which will fulfill the Feast of Atonement.

Atonement happens ten days after Trumpets. The time between the two is called the ‘ten days of awe’ used for repentance. On the annual Day of Atonement, the priest entered the innermost part of the Temple to atone for Israel’s sins (temporarily cover the debt to God, so to speak, with the blood of animal sacrifices). Significantly, the Jews believed that God’s final judgment would happen on the Day of Atonement in the future. It makes sense considering that all the other intentional feast days by God were, or will be, fulfilled.

Indeed, Jesus told His disciples in about 26AD and showed the apostle John in a vision in roughly 90AD about this judgment following the future ingathering and subsequent resurrection of all humans:

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32)

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” (Revelation 20:11-12)

So, how did or does Jesus fulfill this feast? By willingly dying on a horrible instrument of Roman torture and death 2,000 years ago. It’s important to understand that atonement means ‘reparation’ or to make right. In a sense, it’s to repay a debt or settle the books. Jesus began this atoning work by being the one perfect sacrifice to satisfy humanity’s debt to the Creator, who will complete it through His judgment preceding the new age. More on that next week when we dive into the final God-ordained feast and the one we genuinely look forward to, Tabernacles.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Future, Jesus in the Feast of Trumpets

Rescue. Rest. God has, does, and will save people who are His and renew them. The spring feast of Passover celebrates God’s power to do just that, beginning with rescuing His people from Egypt nearly 3,500 years ago. Unleavened Bread and Pentecost, also in the springtime, remind us to be set apart for God’s purpose: partnership with Him in returning creation to the perfection it once enjoyed before we messed everything up. If we do this, we too will find rescue and rest at the end of this world to which the fall feasts of God look forward.

There are three God-ordained fall feasts: Feast of Trumpets (often called Rosh Hashanah because it heads up the new year), Atonement (Yom Kippur), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). And just like “Passover” comprises Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, “Tabernacles” comprises Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles.

The fall feasts beginning with Trumpets happen within 28 days in September or October, depending on the lunar calendar. Trumpets begins on the first of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, and is the only holiday on the first day of the month at the new moon. This time of near-total darkness will be significant to Christ’s future fulfillment of the fall feasts upon His return.

Anyway, this time called the “in-gathering” celebrates the harvest of the earth and is a shadow (forerunner) of the harvest of humans at the end of this age—some for destruction (by their choices) and some for eternal life with God. Again, the three fall feasts together celebrate rescue and rest in the past and to come. The feast and future fulfillment begin with a blasting of the trumpets.

“Ron, why trumpets??” Trumpets in the Old Covenant represented God’s voice and power in warfare (e.g., Numbers 10). Blowing them was a warning that something extraordinary was about to take place. In the beginning, it was the ingathering of God’s people at Sinai to be in His presence (Exodus 19). It will announce the gathering of God’s people at the end of this age (e.g., Matthew 24:31; 1Thessalonians 4:16).

For more information about Christ’s return and God’s coming rescue and rest, please consider studying Finding the End of The World—the result of decades of research, writing, and teaching on the subject. Next week, we’ll continue our fall festival discussion with Atonement (Yom Kippur).

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

White Robes & Green Thumbs

What do white robes and green thumbs have to do with each other? Lots! In our Christian faith, you must have both to grow and persevere until the rescue (salvation) that will come when Christ returns (1Peter 1:3-5). Allow me to explain.

White robes imply a setting apart (holiness) from worldly things for the things of God. And the things for which we’re to be set apart are purity and good works and spiritual growth and maturity.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” —Ephesians 2:10.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that belief without productive faith will buy ‘fire insurance!’ Jesus said that would result in destruction (John 15:2-6). James confirmed that knowledge without action is dead (James 2:14-26). But righteousness (abiding by God’s standard) and holiness will earn a white robe and rescue at the end of this world and an eternity with God:

“After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands … And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” —Revelation 7:9-14.

White robes are good. But where does the ‘green thumb’ fit in? Well, living by God’s standard and doing good works out of faith don’t come naturally. They happen because of a change of heart (mind) and spiritual maturity. We must decide to receive the wisdom of God and learn how to grow it and put it to work. Jesus explained this in a parable about spiritual soil (Matthew 13:1-9 (parable) and 18-23 (explanation)).

Briefly, the parable showcases four kinds of people as an analogy of sowing and soil. The first is on no ground, the person who doesn’t understand the things of God and rejects them. The second is rocky soil: receiving wisdom but being unproductive. The third is thorny ground, representing the worrisome and greedy, intentionally and selfishly unfruitful. The fourth is good soil: the person who receives the good news of God’s Kingdom and matures accordingly. The green thumb in good soil earns a white robe.

Do you have a ‘white robe?’ Well, it depends on your soil and willingness to receive truth and grow in it. What kind of soil are you? Let me know if you need some fertilizer! I realized too late that I was to address healthy conflict resolution and dealing with anger last week. So, let’s go there next week.

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

Cheap Grace

Now, I’m a Protestant Christian by default, but we live in a Protestant ‘get saved quick’ culture whereby someone may be told to say a silent and unbiblical ‘sinner’s prayer’ to avoid hell and go to heaven. There’s often an invitation to invite Jesus ‘in’ instead of an outward devotion of all we are and have to the King (e.g., Matthew 22:37; Romans 10:9-10). Few understand the cost of a relationship with God, so that’s where things usually stall. For about 85% of people who ‘get saved,’ there’s no discipleship, disciple-making, or charitable activity. This grace is one-sided and cheap, and it devalues our ransom paid by Christ. The Bible tells of costly grace, though—something about which Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.

What about the ‘get saved’ history? It was never a thing until after the formal Protestant Reformation. From the beginning of Christian history until then, converts were either part of the universal Church or not. They responded appropriately to God’s call through Christ and lived transformed lives within their communities until they died, or they didn’t. The idea of an instant and permanent one-sided passive salvation wasn’t, and still isn’t, a thing in many Christian circles, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths. “So, Ron—then how do I become part of Christ’s universal Church?” Good question!

There’s nothing ‘quick’ about entering God’s rest now and rescuing from His wrath at the end of this world. The lifelong process appears to be: (1) become equipped for decision-making through things such as Scriptures and evangelism (e.g., John 20:30-31), (2) decide to respond to God’s call through devotion, love, and discipleship (Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 10:9-10), and (3) remain in the relationship (John chapter 15). In other words, understand well, choose well, and then stay and grow spiritually, no matter the cost.

What’s next? Well, I’m an end-of-the-world guy (Finding the End of the World, 2011) and recently ate some fig bars on a mini vacation. So, I’m motivated to write about Fig Trees & The End of The World. See you next week!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley