Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts from an imperfect disciple.

Building for the Kingdom


It is always exciting when the Holy Spirit reveals an important truth to you. This happened recently as I pondered James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues. Our tongues can bless God and people or our tongues can curse God and people. Of course there is a spectrum on which our words fall, but ultimately we are speaking to build others up and praise God or we are speaking to tear others down and curse God.

What James taught in this passage has wider implications than just the words that come out of our mouths. It also applies to how we live.

With these bodies God has given us we can either sin and rebel against Him or we can obey and worship Him. Just like our words, our actions fall on a spectrum between these two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to Building for the Kingdom. In chapter 13 Wright wrote:

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

We need to ask ourselves the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

I would suggest that we build for the kingdom whenever we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

Here is the point I want us to get today: Just as our tongues can praise or curse God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

Ultimately, sin is rebellion against God. Since sin is contrary to God’s will for us it corrupts, not only our lives, but also the world. Remember, this world was created good, and Satan, sin, and death have been corrupting it ever since Adam and Eve, through sin, rebelled against God’s will. The reason repentance in necessary is because sin joins us to Satan’s effort to corrupt the good nature of creation. Through repentance we denounce our participation in Satan’s rebellion and declare our allegiance to God and His kingdom.

We are created for obedience and good works.  This leads us to join God in the work of redeeming His creation, which includes other people. When viewed through this lens it is made clear that our good works are not the way we earn salvation, but the way we join God in His redemptive work.

By devoting our time in energy to good works we are not only building for the Kingdom here on earth, but we are also avoiding sin, the force that corrupts God’s good creation in the first place. When we are involved in doing good not only will we have fewer opportunities to sin, but we will witness the devastating effects sin has had  in this world. Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

In this passage Paul revealed the key to good works: being led by the Spirit. If we are to be led by the Spirit then we need to be students of God’s Word and we need to be actively involved in a local church family.

We will not build for God’s Kingdom by accident. The only way that it happens is to make it a priority in our lives. If it is not a priority then there will always be something else that is more urgent for us to do.  When we are intentional about doing good works, then we partner with God and work for His kingdom, rather than trying to work against Him.

In the end God’s Kingdom is going to be built. We need to decide whether or not we want to be part of the process.

God is…Love

God Is FB

The question, “Who is God?” is an important question to ask. The way we answer this question is going to influence what we believe, how we worship, and how we live our lives.

The first sermon in this series I focused on the reality that God is holy. To be holy means to be separated from the ordinary, and that is exactly who God is, because He is the the Creator of the ordinary.

It is my belief that the core characteristic of God, the characteristic from which all the others flow is holiness. God is separated from the ordinary, and that means His love, forgiveness, and justice are different from our love, forgiveness, and justice.

The characteristic that was the topic of this sermon was love. To get a better understanding of God’s love I used Luke 15:11-32 (the parable of the Prodigal Son) as my text.

The Big Idea: To be holy requires loving like God loves.

Challenge: Invite a person or a family out for supper. 

Listen to God is…Love.

Stop Voting for a King


For the first time in my life I am ready for an election season to be over.

I enjoy politics and therefore I have always enjoyed the discussions that surround elections. In recent years this has less to do with the differences between Democrats and Republicans and more to do with thinking through a libertarian and free market response to the issues. Through this lens it becomes obvious that fundamentally there is little difference between the two parties because they both believe in using the power of the federal government to achieve their agendas.

One of the the things that has turned me off to this election is the Christian defense for Donald Trump. I understand believing that Trump will be better for the United States because he will appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean you have to defend the indefensible. I wish Christians would stop acting like Trump is God's chosen candidate to preserve the United States and admit that he is an immoral man who MIGHT BE more conservative than the alternative.

Another thing that has me turned off to this election is the media's refusal to shine a light on Hillary Clinton and the effects of her policy positions. It is maddening to me how the media is going out of its way to portray Trump as evil incarnate, but will not even talk about the serious nature of having classified emails on an unsecured server. In my mind that is the least of her crimes, since she has supported policies that have led to the deaths of innocent people in the Middle East. Remember, I do not support Donald Trump, and think he will make a bad president, but the double standard here is glaring.

A third thing that has turned me off to this election is people's acceptance of the power of the presidency. It is mind boggling that the response to many of the agenda items for both major candidates is not; “That is unconstitutional.” We have come to assume that the President of the United States can do all these wonderful (in reality, awful) things. I am certain that every king and emperor of the ancient world would have killed to have the power that is concentrated in the office of President today.

In a recent column for the Rutherford Institute, John Whitehead, wrote about terrifying power of the president.

In recent years, however, American presidents have anointed themselves with the power to wage war, unilaterally kill Americans, torture prisoners, strip citizens of their rights, arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, carry out warrantless spying on Americans, and erect their own secretive, shadow government.These are the powers that will be inherited by the next heir to the throne, and it won’t make a difference whether it’s a President Trump or a President Clinton occupying the Oval Office.

Why are we not rebelling against the very notion of an all powerful president? Why do continue to legitimize it by voting for this office every four years?

Part of the answer is that the natural tendency of people is to be ruled. We would like to believe that the desire of people's hearts is to be free. I don't think that is true. Most people want to be left alone, but they are perfectly content to let someone else make all the decisions.

Another piece of the puzzle is that we like people who use power to accomplish their agendas. If you look at a list of the best presidents, the presidents we are suppose to love, the one thing they all have in common is that they used and expanded the power of the presidency. That is certainly the case for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, the two presidents that many people see as the greatest presidents in American history. Since history teaches us that presidents have all this power, we have come to accept their use of power without question.

Instead of evaluating presidents based on their use of power we should evaluate them based on their oath of office. We should ask this simple question: “Do they uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States?” If we used that measure, the best president in the history of the United States, according to historian Brion McClanahan, would by John Tyler.

How do we combat this abuse of executive power?

First, Congress needs to take back its constitutional duties. Rather than just following the agenda of the president, the Congress must do its duty to be the starting point of legislation and for declaring war.

Second, the States need to remember that they are not under the Federal Government. The Federal Government has certain enumerated powers that it is responsible for, all other powers are to be retained by the States. One reason for this is because each State has its own local issues and there is rarely a one size fits all answer for the entire country. If that was true for the original 13 States, how much more true is it today with 50 States?

Third, amendments to the Constitution need to be added, not because they will make the Constitution more enforceable, but to remind us of the proper role the Federal Government, particularly the President, has in governing the country.

It is time that we stop electing a king with a term limit and start reducing the power the President and the Federal Government has over our lives. When the election is viewed through this lens it becomes obvious that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or even Gary Johnson is not the right candidate for the job.

This election is lost, but that doesn't mean we should despair. Instead we need to start focusing on our State and Local elections and begin to bring about change at the local level. That is the only way to reduce the power of the Federal Government and return the power to the people.


Be a Good Steward of Your Life


{Titus 1:1-4; NLT}

1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives.2 This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began.3 And now at just the right time he has revealed this message, which we announce to everyone. It is by the command of God our Savior that I have been entrusted with this work for him.
4 I am writing to Titus, my true son in the faith that we share.
May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior give you grace and peace.


An important truth that Christians need to understand is that our lives our not our own. We are stewards of the life given to us by God. This means that our lives need to be lived in response to the will of God. He is our Creator and Lord.

At the start of his letter to Titus, as he did with many of his other letters, Paul confirmed this reality by stating that he was both a slave and an apostle. Both these titles were given to people who were under the authority of another person. Obviously a slave was a person who was forced to work for a master. An apostle was a person who was sent as the representative of the king or other person in authority. In these two titles Paul admitted he was under the authority of God.

This meant that Paul understood that his life was to be lived to accomplish the will of God. The apostle Paul saw the purpose of his life was to expand God’s Kingdom through preaching the Gospel. Not only did this include evangelism but also strengthening the faith of Christians through instruction of what it means to live a life of faith and reminding them of promise of God—eternal life.

I want us to ponder these two great ideas: that we are stewards and we have been given eternal life. Remember: God has promised us life! Not just existence, but life, eternal life. That is a reason to have hope. Along with this reality is that we are to use this life for God’s purposes.

The promised consequence God gave for eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is that Adam and Eve would die, but even on the pages of Scripture this doesn’t happen.

At least it doesn’t appear to happen, because Adam and Eve go on existing. Like a branch severed from the tree appears to remain alive, and thus continues to exist, it is dead because it has been cut off from its source of life. Adam and Eve existed but were dead because they were cut  off from their source of life, God, because of their sin.

The tragedy of Adam and Eve is discovered in the reality that they were not good stewards of the life given to them. They were not content to care for Creation, but they desired to be like God, and thus they misused and lost the life God and given to them.

Through Jesus we have been given a second chance at life. In John 15:1-5 Jesus taught that he is the vine and we are the branches, and that our lives depend and being connected to him as our source of life.

This means that in order to be good stewards of life, to carry out God’s call on our lives, we have to first remain connected to Jesus. Eternal life is found nowhere else but him.

It is through this connection with Jesus that we discover God’s call on our lives. This calling looks different for all of us. I think many of us assume that just because our calling isn’t a calling like Paul’s calling then we are free to do what we want. That is not true. When we are connected to Jesus he will show us how we can love and serve those around us so the effect of the Gospel is continually felt in our our corner of the world.

To be good stewards of the eternal life God has given to us through Jesus means that we live like Jesus would live in our place. How would Jesus do our jobs or spend our money? How would Jesus treat that difficult costumer or serve that insulting client? The only way to know the answer to these questions is to be connected to Jesus and allow his life to be our life.

Our lives are not our own, but they belong to God. This means we are to be good stewards of the life that we have. Following Jesus enables us to live the life God created us to live.

Questions to consider:

  • Did Paul believe his live belonged to him? Why do we know this?
  • How should the idea of stewardship effect the way we live our lives?
  • Why do we need to stay connected to Jesus? What are some of the things you to do to stay connected to Jesus?


We Need to Live the Truth


The truth is important because it points us to what we need to do.  This is especially true for those of us who follow Jesus.

If we are not acting on the truth we have been taught then we are not really following Jesus. Remember that Jesus is the Truth. To be a disciple of Jesus requires action and not just belief.

When it comes to evaluating our lives, I believe we need to begin in this question: do our lives reflect the truth we believe?

The trap that many Christians fall into is passing judgment on the world. We love to shine a light on what other people are doing wrong, but we hate to shine that light inwards. We don’t want to be reminded of the ways we fail.

This is why I hate going to the doctor.  I hate being reminded that I need to lose weight. The issue with my weight isn’t that I don’t know that it is a problem, it isn’t a lack of knowledge of what to do, but it is a lack of action. I don’t use my knowledge, rather I allow my flesh to guide me. This leads me to give into cravings more often than not.

Getting the right information is easy, but because you have to fight against habits and addictions, it is often difficult to change behavior. Remember: Knowledge doesn’t translate into action. This is why James said that faith without works is dead. If faith did not require action, then having the right knowledge would be enough.

The issue of action isn’t just about us and our relationship with God. This issue is also about what will bring the greatest benefit to the Kingdom of God.  William Barclay wrote, “The world is full of talk about Christianity, but one deed is worth a thousand words.”

Our deeds and the way we choose to live make all the difference in the world. When we live out our beliefs our actions become the very evidence people need to know that the Gospel is true.

The knowledge of truth is essential to the life of faith.

I have also been around long enough to realize that the intellectual pursuit of truth  can overwhelm the ordinary person. This is not to say that the works of the scholar and the apologist are not important, but it is to say that what many people are looking for is something that is practical rather than something that is intellectual. It is crucial to remember that the average person wants something that makes sense of life right now, and not something that will take a long time to figure out.

When we live out the truth God has revealed to us, we demonstrate that God’s Word is relevant to people’s lives today. Our lives provide the context of what it means to live a life of faith and to follow Jesus. Our hope is that our actions will make people stop and wonder why we live the way we do. A few might even be drawn to the life of faith that we live.

Peter wrote:

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)

In order to live the truth we have to first worship Jesus as Lord. We are not going to obey Jesus if we don’t not believe that he  the Son of God. What we believe about Jesus is going to have a ripple effect through out our entire life.

Not only do we have worship Jesus, but we need to live with hope.  Hope is the result of the trust we have in the promises of God. When we trust that God will keep His promises, then our lives will be lived out in the context of hope.

The result of living by truth, according to Peter, is that people will be drawn to Jesus. Notice what Peter wrote, we need to be ready to explain our hope. In other words, people will notice that we differently, and that will lead them to ask us about our secret. Peter wants us to be ready to tell people know about the hope available in Jesus.

The first step in guiding people to the truth of the Gospel is to live the truth. One of the ways people judge truth is based on whether or not it works. By living out the truth we believe we provide people the opportunity to judge the merits of the Gospel.

We need to speak the truth, but never forget the importance of living the truth. It is the evidence that some people need for believing the Gospel.


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