Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

3 Actions for Making Wise Decisions

I believe that our lives are the product of the choices that we make.

There are big choices which will affect the rest of our lives, and there are small everyday choices which set the direction of our lives each day. The big choices, like whether or not to marry, get much of the attention. However, it is often the culmination of all the various small choices that truly plot the direction of our lives.

Since all choices are important it is essential that we have the proper foundation for making good choices. We discover this foundation in the Bible.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27; NLT

According to Jesus the foundation for being wise is Scripture. Remember the entire Bible contains the words of Jesus. The wisdom we need to make good choices comes from the Bible.

This leads us to ask an important question: How do we go about laying a foundation of Scripture to build on choices on?

Looking at this parable Jesus taught we find three actions we must do in order to lay Scripture as the foundation of our decision making.

  1. We must LISTEN to Jesus. Listening implies an active intent on part of the listener. A hearer is passive. If we have healthy functioning ears then we hear the various sounds of life. Listening, on the other hand, requires us to focus, tuning out the other sounds, in order to hear what is important. It isn’t enough just read the Bible. We must come to the Bible with the desire to understand what God wants us to know, and how that word applies to our lives.
  2. We must BELIEVE Jesus. We can listen to what Jesus has to say, but if we don’t believe him then we will not apply his teaching to our lives. Belief in Jesus is what separates the foolish from the wise. The foolish will listen to Jesus, but because they do not believe who he is or what he says, they will not allow his words to affect their lives. The wise believe Jesus is the Son of God and the result is that they trust what he says. The choices they make are a result of this trust.
  3. We must CHANGE the way we live. This action step is the extension of believing Jesus. You have to first believe before you can change. Change is the application of belief. The action of change shouts to the world that we trust Jesus. Trusting Jesus means we will adjust our lives to his word. We will align our lives with his will, even when the choice means we will live in away that is opposite of the world around us. Jesus said the fool listens, but does not change his life. In contrast the wise listens and obeys.

Every single day we are faced with choices. Many times we do not have the time we would like to consider all the options. In this fast paced world how do we lay a solid foundation that will help us make wise decisions? We build our lives on the word of God, committed to listening to Jesus, to believing Jesus, and changing our lives.

Without this solid foundation we will be at the mercy of the changing winds of this world. With the solid foundation of God’s Word we are able to stand against whatever storms come our way.

Don’t Give Away Your Heart

{1 Kings 18:36-37; ESV}
And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

It is easy to give our hearts away.

Many of us do it without thinking. It is part of our culture.

We are encouraged to give our hearts away to all sorts of things.

This reality is seen in the die hard Denver Bronco fan who says, “I bleed orange and blue.”

It is seen in devoted fisherman who wears the shirt, “Fishing is life, the rest is just details.”

It is seen in the patriotic veteran who declares, “I regret that I only have one life to give to my country.”

It is seen in the love struck young man who tells the girl of his dreams, “I give you my heart.”

None of these things are necessarily bad.

The problem is that each one has the potential to become the most important thing in our lives.

Idols are often good things that we have given our hearts to.

I know we don’t often think that we have an idol problem. We don’t have statutes of wood, silver, or even gold that we bow down to and worship. Christians living in the West believe they are much too sophisticated to do something so silly.

It is easy for us to talk about how foolish these ancient Israelites were to give their hearts to idols. We see ourselves as much smarter. After all, we would never worship something that we had created with our own two hands. Our education has taught us that these things have no power.

In spite of this reality,  if we would take a little time to examine our hearts, we would discover that we are not very different than this ancient people. We too worship equally worthless things.

Part of the Gospel is the declaration that even though we have given our hearts to inferior things,  God still loves us and longs for us to return to Him.

In 1 Kings we are told that Elijah proclaimed to the crowd that God was the One turning their hearts back to Him.

He was the One calling people to Himself.

They weren’t looking for God.

They weren’t loving God.

But God was calling to them!

God continues to call to us. He still desires that we give Him our hearts.

We have guilt because of our sin. God is calling to us to return to Him.

We are discontent with life. God is calling to us to follow Him.

We experience constant pain. God is calling to us to find hope in Him.

We believe we are worthless. God is calling to us to discover our purpose in Him.

No matter who we are, no matter where we have gone, and no matter what we have done God loves us. He wants our hearts!

God uses the guilt, discontentment, pain, and worthlessness to get our attention. He wants us to see how fake our idols are and the great love He has for us.

Think about the events surrounding Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal. For three years it hadn’t rained in Israel. This was the mother of all droughts.

Don’t you think that many people in Israel experienced pain because of these circumstances?

Hunger and thirst couldn’t ever be quenched because there just wasn’t enough food and water.

It took these difficult circumstances for the people to begin to question the power of Baal and Asherah and to seek the powerful God of their ancestors. God had to tear down their delusions before they would be ready to love Him.

When it was all said and done and the divine fire had consumed the sacrifice that Elijah had presented, God ordered the death of the false prophets of Baal. These men had to be destroyed if Israel was going to have a hope of being free.

This is where many of us are weak.

We have heard God’s call and realize the powerlessness of the “idols” in our lives.

The problem is that we are not willing to do whatever it takes to eradicate them from our hearts. We allow them to continue to live there. This enables them to continue to plague us and prevent us from truly giving God our hearts.

In order to be free we must carry out the death sentence of our idols. God will not exterminate them for us.

God desires for us to be part of His family and He is calling us to join Him.

We have to make a choice: we are going to give our hearts to God or  are we going to continue to serve our little puny idols?

Even today we must answer the call Elijah gave to Israel:  “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”  (1 Kings 18:21; ESV)

Who are you going to follow?

Questions to consider:

  • How have you given away your heart?
  • What idols do you secretly worship?
  • How can you begin to exterminate the idols of your heart?

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5 Ways We can Contribute to the Great Commission

Our calling to follow Jesus is not just a calling to salvation, but also a calling to join God in His great redemptive work.

Peter and Andrew heard this call:

Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Matthew 4;19; NLT)

To one degree or another each Christian receives a similar call. This calling for all the disciples of Jesus is found in Matthew 28:18-20, the passage of Scripture we often call the Great Commission.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NLT)

The question that many of us who follow Jesus ask is: “What is my responsibility in carrying out the Great Commission?”

Here are 5 practical ways we can participate in carrying out the Great Commission:
  1. We love one another. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35; NLT) According to Jesus, the way we treat and serve other Christians, shows the world what it means to follow him. Most people are practical, and what they are looking for is whether or not something works. Our love for each other shows people that following Jesus is better than living in the hostility and rejection of the world. 
  2. We pray. And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. (Ephesians 6:19, NLT) The apostle Paul asked for prayers to speak boldly about the Gospel. We may not have the talents and opportunities to always share the Gospel with people, but we can pray for people who do. This is one of the ways we  join with each other in making disciples of the nations.
  3. We use Scripture. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (2 Timothy 3:16; NLT) The Bible is one of the ways God has equipped us to carry out the Great Commission. It isn’t up to us to convince people of the truth of the Gospel. The combination of Scripture and the Holy Spirit will convict people of the truth, our responsibility is to share Scripture with people. In our sharing we must do it correctly. Throwing out verses and constantly shoving the Bible into the face of people is not an effective way of sharing Scripture. Learning to share Scripture with grace and gentleness is important.
  4. We live faithfully. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. (1 Peter 3:15; NLT) Peter wrote that by living a faithful life, a life that recognizes Jesus as Lord, we demonstrate hope in all circumstances. This hope will mark our lives as different and will cause people to ask about the source of our hope. When people ask about our hope we are given the opportunity to tell them about Jesus. Do not under estimate the power of a faithful  life.
  5. We use our gifts. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. (1 Peter 4:10; NLT) Another way God has equipped us to participate in the task of making disciples of all nations is to bless us with certain talents and resources. These blessings are unique to us and can be used to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus. Be a good steward of God’s blessings by blessing other people.

The Great Commission is a task that is bigger than any one person, but it is something that each one of us can contribute to doing.

You are an important part of the work God is doing in the world. Find a way you can contribute and do it.

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6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide Our Choices

I was recently asked to think about the Scriptures I use to make decisions.

When I am uncertain about the next step to take what passage do I turn to for help?

The following 6 passages are key verses that I return to time and time again. Ephesians 5:15-16 is what I consider to be my life verse and has influenced me in my decision making many times.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would bet that your list is completely different from mine. That is okay.

This reality  is a reminder of how God works with us as individual people. God uses different Scripture passages to speak to our hearts. The key is to identify those passages that are meaningful to us and use them to build a solid foundation for our lives.

What verses serve as a guide for you? Leave comment and let me know.

3 Steps to Experience God’s Power

What is the central truth of Christianity?

If I asked this question to American Christians the answer I would hear would be; “Jesus died on the cross for our sins.”

While this is a tremendous reality and a vital truth of the Christian faith, it is not the foundation on which Christianity is built.

The central truth of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every other truth is validated by this reality.

The Apostle Paul wrote; “For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14; NLT)

Paul declared that everything else that Christians believe is based on the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. If there is no resurrection then our faith is useless. This includes our belief that Jesus death secured forgiveness for our sins.

I believe many of us miss out on the power that is available to us because we focus on the cross rather than on the resurrection.

We have settled for a faith of forgiveness, when we have been promised a faith of transformation.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17; NLT)

The promise of the Gospel is not only that God will forgive our sins, but that He will make us into new people.

God intends to make us into new people right now, not some distant point in the future. We can be certain of this because of the power that is available to us.

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. (Romans 8:11; NLT)

What an amazing thought!

You and I can have our lives transformed because of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit raised Jesus to life and transformed his dead physical body into a new resurrected body. This is the power that is at work in our transformation.

In his book Absolute Surrender Andrew Murray wrote:

The cause of the weakness of your Christian life is that you you want to work it our partly, and to let God help you. And that cannot be. You must come to be utterly helpless, to let God work, and God will work gloriously. It is this that we need if we are indeed to be workers for God (p. 113; Humility and Absolute Surrender).

For a long time in my walk with Jesus I walked in weakness. I thought it was my job to overcome sin, to break the chains of addictions, and to work up the courage to face my fears.

The result was discouragement, condemnation, and isolation. I felt like I was a poser, trying to convince others I had it more together than I did.

There was a part of me that believed if I truly loved God then I would naturally want to read the Bible, pray, and serve. Not only would those things come naturally, but it would take little effort to overcome my sins, even the sins that had become addiction.

Since my reality did not match my belief, the only explanation I had was that I did not love God.

This line of thinking is a death sentence for a person’s faith.

Thank God my perception of reality was wrong!

Jesus didn’t die to make up for our shortcomings. Jesus died to give us a brand new way to live life.

This new way of life begins and ends by surrendering our lives to God. It is only through God’s power that we are able to live the life that He created us to live.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote about God’s power:

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21; NLT)

If we are going to experience God’s power we need to take 3 steps.

  1.  We need to surrender our lives to God. Paul wrote; I fall to my knees and pray to the Father. The image of falling on our knees is an image of surrender. It is an acknowledgement that God is the Lord and we are the servants. In prayer we need to lay down our agendas and ask for God’s will to be done. Too often we operate on our schedule, only asking God to bless our day. To truly surrender our lives, each day, we need to lay down our expectations and ask God for His direction and strength. What matters is for God’s will to be done.
  2. We need to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts. It is the Spirit working in our hearts that enables us to experience God’s power in our lives. This power roots us in love, helps us understand the amazing love of God, and allows us to experience the full and abundant life Jesus promised his followers.
  3. We need to ask God to work in our lives. God is able accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. He has the power to help us overcome the addictions that hold us in bondage, to forgive the people who have deeply and significantly hurt us, and to live in courage rather than to be controlled by fear. Many times we don’t experience this power in our lives because we don’t ask God to help us. Step out in faith and ask God to help you, to heal you, and to bind up your broken heart. He has the power to do more than you can even imagine.

God is interested in you having victory over sin, in living with courage, and experiencing true joy.

Don’t believe these things rest on your shoulders to achieve. Trust in God’s love and power to grant these things to you.

Surrender your life to Him and ask for Him for the strength to live the life He created you to live.

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