Paul's Ponderings

Spiritual Formation. Discipleship. Christian Living.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

Violence is not the Answer

Ever since the tragedy of Charlottesville there has been something that has bothered me.

My great concern is not the presence of Neo-Nazis, but the acceptance of aggressive violence as the means to silence other people.

Most of you know that I am a libertarian. Contrary to what most people believe, libertarians are not “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”. As far as my personal preferences go I am fiscally conservative and socially conservative, because I believe that is the best way to live.

Libertarianism isn’t about finding a middle ground between Democrats and Republicans, but about the proper use of violence. As the great libertarian thinker Walter Block states; “Libertarianism is solely a political philosophy. It asks one and only one question: Under what conditions is the use of violence justified? And it gives one and only one answer: Violence can be used only in response, or in reaction to, a prior violation of private property rights.” In other words violence can only be justifiably used in self-defense. This ethic applies to both the State and individuals.

Not only am I a libertarian, but more importantly, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that his followers are to love and pray for their enemies. He forgave those who crucified him. He overcomes, not through violence, but through self-sacrifice. This is the example I am called to model. To follow Jesus means I can’t respond with violence to people I disagree with, even when what they are advocating will harm society in the long run.

For me the idea of non-aggression is not some nice idea, but fundamental to who I am. It is a key part to both my political philosophy and my religious belief. God’s kingdom is not enlarged nor is liberty expanded through violent aggression.

Know this: if you advocate punching Nazis or Communists or White Supremacists simply because of their beliefs you are living in opposition to the way of Jesus and you are an enemy to liberty. Violence is not the answer and that is why I am equally opposed to Neo-Nazis and Antifa, who both advocate its use to promote their political philosophy.

Goodbye To My Buddy

My dear buddy Barkley,

I am grateful that God blessed my life with you. You have been the perfect dog for me.

You were my companion when I lived in an empty house and had few close friends. You helped get me through lonely nights and tough times. It was comforting to have you sleep by my feet.

We had some great times.

I loved our walks in the pasture, when I could let you run off leash. You looked funny when we walked through the tall grass and you had to hop to see over it. Then there was the time when you started chasing a buck that we came upon in a clearing. I had two conflicting thoughts at that moment: amusement at seeing you chase after a big deer and horror as I wondered if you would get lost and I would never see you again.

Our camping trips were also fun. I would never have made that first trip out to Colorado without you. Having you by my side meant I wasn’t going alone. Thanks for helping me face my fears.

We had many walks. How many times did make that 3 mile loop while we were living in Storm Lake? It was a great place to walk since we were able to walk beside the lake.

We have had some scary moments too. The time you got hit by the SUV when we were visiting the farm. I am amazed that you survived that incident, but you pulled through. It was only by God’s grace that we were able to continue to be together.

I thought I was going to lose you when you ate the plastic backing from the welcome mat at the back door and had to have surgery. You were in so much pain and didn’t want to take your medicine. That was not much fun, but we got through it.

The transition from single life to married life has not been the easiest for you.

In our first years together you really did take on my personality and became as introverted as a dog can

be. Then you had to move to Minnesota and share the house with another dog. You and Lucia never became great friends, but you did learn to tolerate each other. Mostly, you just found a place to hide and tried to stay out of the way.

I am sorry that the role you had in my life diminished after I married Jenny, and further diminished after the kids were born. You ceased being my constant companion and became part of the background of my life. Even though your role got smaller, I am grateful that my kids were able to know you for a little while.

One thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God used you to heal my heart. For that I will always be grateful. You accomplished your God-given task buddy, and I am not the same person I was because you came into my life.

I hate seeing you like this and I long for you to come and paw at my leg asking me to scratch your belly. I would love one last walk in the pasture and to see you run again.

I hope you know that I love you. You were the best dog I could have possibly hoped to have. Goodbye dear friend, I will miss you.

Your human buddy,






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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