Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Category: Devotional (page 1 of 24)

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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No Longer a Foreigner

{Ephesians 2:19-22; NLT}
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

There are two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of this world and there is the kingdom of God.

The reality of life, apart from Jesus, is that we are excluded from God’s kingdom. This means we are strangers and foreigners in the very kingdom that we were to call home.

Things can be different. Our citizenship can be changed!

Not only can we become citizens of God’s kingdom, but we can even be adopted into God’s family!

 

Before, while we were in our sin, we were outsiders, we didn’t belong to God’s Kingdom, but now we do. We were citizens of the world, and foreigners in the Kingdom of God, but now our citizenship has changed. The world is no longer our home, we are pilgrims in this land, because our citizenship is now in Heaven.

I want to point out two implications that come with being citizens of God’s Kingdom.

  1. We are not alone. I am not the only citizen of the Kingdom, and though it might feel like I am all alone at times, that is just a feeling and not reality. In this Kingdom reside all the faithful who lived under the Old Covenant as well as all of the faithful who follow Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews writes of a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). It encourages me to think about all the people who have lived faithful lives, because it reminds me that I am not the only one to experience the struggles of faith.
  2. There is a standard for living.  God expects His people to live in a certain way. One of the expectations God has for His people is that we will be servants. We need to help those people who are in need and in the process bring God’s love and hope into their lives. A second expectation is that we live moral lives. The moral standard that we live by needs to be better than the standard the rest of the world by. People need to recognize that there is a difference in the way we live and the they live.

What a word of hope we find in this passage. We are part of God’s Kingdom!

Being citizens of God’s kingdom is going provide us with some challenges. It will be a challenge simply because our purpose of life has changed.

The fact that we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His household needs to shape the way we live. Why? It needs to shape our lives because we no longer live for ourselves. Now we are representatives, ambassadors, of God’s Kingdom, and is essential that we to play the part.

Questions to consider:

  • What was your life like before Jesus?
  • Do you gain any hope from knowing you are part of God’s kingdom?
  • How can you be a good representative of God’s kingdom?

A Holiday of Promise

We are a week away from Christmas. As a Christian Christmas is both a wonderful and dreadful experience.

It is wonderful because of the reality behind the celebration.

It is dreadful because of the pressure to buy gifts, not because we want to, but because it is expected. Too often, as it has been said time and time again, the wonderful part of Christmas is overlooked and consumed by the dreadful part of Christmas.

This dual nature of Christmas is reality of the culture that we live in, but it doesn’t have to be true for us. You and I can reclaim Christmas for our families.

We can celebrate the holiday and remember what makes this holiday so very special for those who follow Jesus.

Humans are forgetful creatures. We have always had a, “What have you done for me lately?” mentality.

This truth comes across loud in clear in the Old Testament.

God showed up and Israel is happy. Time passed and Israel forgot and went her astray. To help Israel remember God gave Israel holidays, rituals, and commandments. The problem these traditions is that they only work if people use them, and Israel rarely used these traditions from God properly.

Christmas is not a holiday that God has given to us as Christians. There is not one verse in the Bible which asks us to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The one tradition God gave us to remember Jesus is communion, and that is why I believe it should have a central part in our weekly worship services.

I am not saying that Christmas is unimportant, just that it isn’t commanded by God for us to celebrate, we can be Christians and not celebrate Christmas.

I mention this because I want to give you permission to drop some traditions or obligations that are associated with Christmas which distract us for remembering and celebrating. Give fewer gifts, go to fewer parties, and skip a Christmas program  at church.

The value of Christmas is found in taking time to remember what it is all about.

What is special about Jesus? Why should we remember his birth and life? We are prone to forget if we don’t set time aside regularly to remember the promise God made and how Jesus fulfilled that awesome promise.

The reason I have come to love Christmas is because Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the God who keeps promises.

Christmas reminds us that God is working through history to restore His creation to the way it ought to be. Christmas reminds us that God is willing to do whatever it takes for us to have life. Christmas reminds us that God is not some distant being out there somewhere not caring about us, but that He became one of us in order to save us from certain death.

This Christmas I hope you take the time to remember and celebrate God for being a promise keeper. Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Have family communion at Christmas dinner
Communion is the Christian ritual of remembrance. What better time to remember the purpose of Jesus and our commitment to Him than at Christmas? I think this could be a very special time for you and your family, a time that everyone takes their focus away from the gifts and food and focuses on Jesus.
2. Read John 1:1-18 and pray before opening presents
Especially if you have children. They will be eager to rip off the paper and see what they have received. This is a great time to help them remember that Christmas isn’t about them, but it is about Jesus and how He fulfilled God’s ancient promise to bless all the nations of the earth.

Christmas shouldn’t be a holiday about gift giving, but a holiday of celebration. We should be celebrating the God who has kept His promise to save us and give us life. Jesus is the promise we celebrate at Christmas.

Point to Ponder: Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the God who keeps promises.
Passage to Remember: John 1:14
Question to Consider: How will you remember Jesus this Christmas?

Be a Good Steward of Your Life

life-steward

{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?

 

Love is the Message

love-is-our-message

{1 Corinthians 13:1; NLT}
If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.

We live in a broken world.

That fact is not hard to see. The high profile murder cases, the heroin epidemic, and to the rise of obesity in the United States shows us that people are hurt, lonely, scared, and hopeless. The addictions and self-destructive actions people have often develop from trying to cope with life.

People who are broken do not need lectures on the evil of sin because they are experiencing its consequences. They do not need facts about the reliability of the Bible because those facts don’t speak to their deepest needs.

What they need is love, compassion, and understanding. In other words, they need to have hope and encouragement. As Christians we believe that hope only comes through Jesus. This means, if they are going to have hope they need to experience Jesus in a real and personal way. The only way a broken world will experience Jesus is through the Church loving and encouraging people.

Remember what Jesus told his disciples the night before he was crucified?

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciple” (John 13:34-35; NLT).

Jesus taught that our love for each other will make it possible for others to know that we belong to him. Reaching out to the world begins by loving and serving each other.

We, the body of Christ, need to learn to love each other and care for one another so other people can see that the love they crave actually exists. Too many people have been turned off to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the church families they know are not loving.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay (1 Peter 4:7-9; NLT).

Peter wrote of the importance of love. The power of love is that it helps people look past the Church’s mistakes, bad singing, and poor preaching. Being a loving Church allows people to see the Gospel message fleshed out and this helps people see the difference Jesus can make a difference in their lives.

The Bible makes it clear that Christians are the body of Christ. This means it is our responsibility to live in such a way so that the world can see the love of Jesus.

When we insist on fighting with each other and having power struggles that result in dividing the church we show a hurting and lonely world that Jesus makes no difference in their lives.

To truly have influence in this world begins by loving people. By loving people we demonstrate God’s character, we become lights in a dark world, and meet people where they are. I believe that our love will show the world that there is hope and that there is a different way to live, because they are not only hearing the Gospel, but they are also seeing the Gospel. Our lives of love will act as evidence that the message of hope that we have is true.

Questions to consider:

  • How have seen the brokenness of the world?
  • Why is love essential to the message of the Gospel?
  • What is one thing you can do to love someone today?
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