Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

Faith-based Computer Networking

Decades ago, I managed computer systems and network teams at the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace College. Many intelligent people worked with and for me. Me? Not so much. I needed supernatural help on occasion (usually late at night when I was in way over my head!). I’d share those Spirit-enabled success stories with my wife but never labeled the practice until one particular evening.

I had invited a network administrator and his girlfriend to join us for a church-sponsored Valentine’s dinner. During the meal, my wife said, “You know how you pray because you don’t know what you’re doing?” My cohort blurted out, “Ah – faith-based network administration!” I’ll take it. After all, why break what works? But is praying for what I need wrong or selfish? It depends.

God encourages us to pray in our time of need—in dire straights or innocent desire for good things, not selfish gain or ambition. Praying to find car keys to rush a sick child to the hospital would be good and selfless. Asking God for a red sport car when you only need to repair the car you have probably crosses a line. Let me offer some quick guidance about asking for Godly help before continuing.

Someone recently said something like, “If God can love people how I think He should, then I can love Him!” Well, we don’t set moral standards; God does. He doesn’t owe us anything, let alone His ear, and He certainly doesn’t work for us! If our motives are impure or selfish, or we intend to rebel against His standards, God will not listen to us (Psalm 66:18; 1Peter 3:7; James 4:3). And we must be someone God knows in a complete (perfect) relationship if we expect anything from Him. Here are a few verses encouraging those in fellowship with God to ask for direction.

Remember that Jesus taught us to pray for deliverance from temptation and the evil one (Matthew 6:13). One Psalmist begs for God to order his steps and keep sin from overcoming him (Psalm 119:133). And Jesus’ brother James encourages us to ask God for wisdom and discernment (James 1:5). At the same time, Paul admonishes us to ‘pray about everything’ (Philippians 4:6). Do we have examples of this at work? Yep!

Paul got direction from God’s Spirit to go to Macedonia instead of Asia (Acts 16:6-10). Gideon, seeking guidance from God, asked for certain conditions (dry fleece, wet fleece) to confirm the future (Judges 6:36-40). The Jews similarly cast lots to receive guidance from God because they understood that He would direct the outcome according to His desires. Finally, King David continually sought wisdom from God. So should we.

In summary, God listens to His own and gives wisdom accordingly. What about the following article? Since we’ve touched on what God desires, let’s talk about how He seeks partners, not affirmation, zombies, or spiritual couch potatoes!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

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

The God Box Part II: Freedom

In my last blog, I explained that a ‘God box’ is anything that keeps God’s Spirit from moving and stifles convert transformation. Physical walls, a business focus, religious rules and practices, and a one-to-many approach during services from the fourth century top the list of God box building materials. Others include personal misconceptions, self-centeredness, and a lack of biblical training. Here, we’ll brainstorm things we can do to escape the box and become complete—perfect—in our relationship with God.

First, let’s break down the religious walls. To do this, we must devote all to God and focus on the Big-T tenants of our faith (see the last article). Remember that all else is secondary or church traditions, often built on bad theology (understanding God or His ways) or human religious doctrines. Don’t treat the secondary issues or human forms of practicing the Big-T stuff as soul-saving necessities.

Second, let’s break down the wall of self-centeredness. God commands us to honor Him and [actionably] love people. This is the prime directive. It’s OK to give to the church’s business (after all, we made it, we must feed it!), but don’t let that derail you from God’s command to give of time, talents, and treasure to care for His creation, again, especially people. Being outward-focused will help free you from self-centeredness.

Third, let’s break down the theological ignorance and spiritual immaturity wall. To be God-box-less, learn the truth of God’s Kingdom that will set you free. I’d say that this should be the first step in ditching the God box: you can’t honor what you don’t know or love well when you don’t understand true, action-oriented love. Understand that our one-to-many services leave little if any room for discipleship or movement by the Spirit. Today’s church service format is probably the boxiest part of the God box and incredibly stifling as well as enabling pew-warming freeloaders. What does freedom look like here? Make sure you don’t rely on Sunday morning alone for your discipleship, obedience to make disciples, or spiritual growth! There’s no substitute for regular Bible study (not devotionals!), life transformation groups offering study, prayer, accountability, and ongoing, never-ending discipleship.

Putting it all together. God called us to honor Him and love people (this is actionable, not emotional!). He didn’t call us to build stuff, lord it over people, or entertain the masses. If you want to symbolically free God and perhaps yourself from a God box, devote, love, and 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. No walls, physical or spiritual, are necessary!

In the final article in this three-part series, we’ll continue our discussion and soar to new heights in “The God Box Part III, Endless Possibilities.”

Dr. Ron Braley

The God Box Part I: The Box

We love religious traditions but may not understand that they can restrain God and put Him (or us!) into a spiritual container. I say, “Let’s let Him, and us, out!” Of course, that won’t be possible until we understand what’s happening first! Over the following several articles, we’ll cover these things: (1) What is the Box; (2) Freedom from the Box; (3) A New World Outside Awaits! Let’s begin our journey by understanding where we are today compared to how things were or should be.

The ‘box’ is anything that keeps God’s Spirit from moving and stifles convert transformation. But imagine a world outside of a religious container where people introduced to God’s Kingdom devoted all they were and had to Him and, in return, received God’s Spirit and just lived life well. No business-minded churches. No passive congregations. No elevated roles or privileges. You were an active part of the Body of Christ, singing, teaching, leading, loving . . . or you weren’t. There were no commercial walls, human doctrines, or soul-crushing rules or punishments. The Spirit moved freely and gifted individuals to accomplish God’s good pleasure. No Old Covenant religious burdens, not even tithing (since there was no longer a Temple needing upkeep nor priests receiving a God-ordained inheritance).

Baptism was a simple pledge that resulted in the Spirit given by God, also as a pledge. Communion was table fellowship, during which converts remembered what Father and Son had done for them. Money was just collected occasionally and voluntarily to feed the hungry and care for widows, orphans, and traveling evangelists (e.g., according to Paul, Tertullian, and others). That was mostly how things were in the first century. Fast-forward, and we see a religious box taking shape that constrains to this day.

To be clear, there’s a difference between the ‘big-T’ core truths of our faith that mustn’t change and the ‘little-t’ truths of how we practice. Big-T non-negotiable things include: the Father created everything and sent the Son to redeem His creation aided by the Spirit; the Son gave that Spirit to His brothers and sisters and sent them (and still does) as partners in reconciling creation; charity and spiritual growth are mandatory. No walls here.

On the other hand, ‘little-t’ practices can erect religious barriers that keep out the pure of heart and showcase the proud. Church traditions often make a mockery of Christ’s Law of love. And the Greco-Roman one-to-many presentation in place by the fourth century can crush any potential move by the Spirit and encourage freeloaders who occupy pews but are unfruitful. The box has been built, but there’s hope!

In the following article, we’ll continue our discussion in “The God Box Part II, Freedom.” Imagine what it will take to let God and us out of the religious prison we’ve created, free the Spirit, and put the Christ-follower to work! Let’s explore that!

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Perfect Characteristics!

I love discipleship and have taught disciples and disciple-makers internationally. Recently, one African pastor asked me this question on behalf of his youthful disciples: “What are the character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect (healthy), without which we cannot be in union with him?” That he asked about what can keep our relationship with God healthy reflects an excellent heart for Him! The key here is that we are responsible for partnering with, or separating ourselves from, God. Our direction depends on whether we reflect God’s characteristics as His imagers. I want to share with you my complete response to the pastor:

“To answer the question, we must first look at the traits that keep us perfect with God. Then, we can discuss what it looks like to be out of fellowship with Him. In the original language, perfection means ‘completion.’ So, a complement to God—whatever completes the relationship with Him and the Son—is what He desires. He loves, we love (e.g., 1 John 4:7-21). He is merciful and just (Micah 6:6-8); we are merciful and just. He is holy (set apart – e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-16), so we are set apart for purity and good works (e.g., Ephesians 2:10). Whatever He is, we are to be. To deviate is to be out of union with Him and, therefore, imperfect, useless, and unfruitful in His Kingdom.”

Although I plan to write more about God’s image another day, I should introduce the concept here. There’s a lot of confusion about our being made in it. Some of us think that the image is what we look like on the outside (hair, skin, and stuff). Not a chance. Others would say that the image is a template of God’s thought, spirit, and so forth. Not quite. Simply put, God created us to represent Him as partners on earth: He shared His attributes with us (gave us His image) so we can mimic Him. We are to reflect His characteristics as we do the job He assigned us from the beginning: manage His earthly stuff well (including ourselves!).

How does our job as imagers of God fit into the topic of perfect characteristics? When we are just, merciful, pure, and loving (actionably, not through emotions alone!), our relationship with God can be complete as we reflect perfect characteristics as His partners. When we mimic Him and His nature, His attributes, we reflect His image perfectly.

In summary, what can keep our fellowship with God healthy and our characteristics perfect as imagers of God almighty? Devote, stay, be charitable to others, and become spiritually mature. Anything else is vanity. What’s next? Well, we tend to put God into a box, something of a ‘religious constraints gone wild’ prison. What do you say we let Him out as we enjoy a three-part series about The God Box.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

The Future: Jesus in the Feast of Tabernacles

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about God’s rescue and rest—the heart of His ordained fall festivals. Trumpets and Atonement deal with His rescue. The final festival, Tabernacles/Booths (Hebrew Sukkoth), celebrates the rest God gave Israel when He rescued her from Egypt about 3,500 years ago. Importantly, it looks forward to the rest God will give His people in the new age. Before exploring the feast’s significance, let’s look at some details and its background.

God implemented the feast so that Israel would remember His provision and shelter during the 40 years they wandered in the desert. It begins five days after Atonement on 15 Tishri, is eight days long, and identifies a completion of the harvest and, therefore, the agricultural year. In the ‘feast context,’ Trumpets happens on 1 Tishri, Atonement happens ten days later on 10 Tishri after the ‘ten days of awe’ for repentance, and Tabernacles occurs five days later.

Today, Tabernacles is Israel’s Thanksgiving for the fall harvest. It’s a party, as people are invited to come and eat and drink and enjoy God’s harvest provision and view creation at night. How do they do that? Well, per God’s instructions, they sleep in a three-sided booth. A relatively open roof made of sticks and leaves allows the inhabitants to see God’s handiwork. This reminds me of Psalm 19:1-2:

“. . . The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.”

The feast celebrates God’s rest for His Old Covenant people, Israel. It also looks forward to fulfillment when God returns His creation to perfection and once again dwells with His people:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” (Revelations 21:1-4)

To summarize the fall feasts of God, terrible times happen, and worse are coming, but God will insert Himself into human history when He’s ready and bring rescue and rest for everyone who is His. Where will we go next week? I mentioned the word ‘perfection’ in this article, so let’s learn what the word means in the original language and explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect.

Blessings and peace,

Dr. Ron Braley

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