Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

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It is Foolishness

Good Friday is the day that we remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

It is odd that we would set aside a day to remember the death of a man. This is especially true when we remember that the focus of Christianity is on life rather than death.

Good Friday reminds us that God’s perspective is different from our perspective. From God’s perspective today is not a day focused on the unjust execution of a man, but a day to remember a great act of love.

For us who have been Christians for many years it becomes easy to forget the price that was paid for our sins. We need days like Good Friday to remind us that our salvation came at the price of God’s sacrificial love.

We also need to be reminded that from the outside looking in, the cross doesn’t look like victory.

In fact, from the outside the cross looks like defeat.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s words:

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:18-25; NLT)

Notice how Paul describes the cross.

From the outside the cross appears foolish. After all, the cross is a symbol of death and defeat. 

In the ancient world you could not preach a message of victory through the cross because the cross meant the Romans had won and the rebellion was crushed. For Jews and Gentiles alike the cross was to be avoided.

It is crucial that we understand this reality.

There should be an element of foolishness and folly when we think about the cross.

The cross shouldn’t automatically make sense to us.

Don’t get me wrong. The cross fits into God’s plan to rescue creation from sin, decay, and death. Therefore, even though the cross escapes human reason, it is the product of God’s wisdom.

I want us to step back from talking about the victory of the cross, as if it is the most natural thing in the world, and consider how it looks from the outside.

The victory of the cross cannot be discovered by logic alone. It can only be seen in the entire context of God’s redemptive plan for the world.

We may never grasp the full wisdom of God displayed through the cross.

We may not understand why sin requires death.

We may wonder how the death of one man is able save everyone from the consequences of sin.

We may have questions about the cross, but we can still experience its power.

To take advantage of the gift of forgiveness and mercy that is found in the death Jesus we don’t need to understand all of its complexities. We only need to trust the One at work through it all.

The death of Jesus redeemed an instrument of torture and death into a symbol of victory and hope. If Jesus can redeem the cross, he can redeem us.

The point of Good Friday is not that we understand all of God’s ways, but that we trust God’s love.

Transformation Begins in the Heart

Transformation Begins in the Heart from Paul Steele on Vimeo.

Do You Know the Goal of Salvation?

What is the goal of salvation?

I believe that the message of the Gospel has been watered down to the point that many Christians have missed purpose of salvation. We assume that salvation is about “saving us from sin” and “going to heaven” when we die.

What if I told you there is more?

If the Gospel is just about having our ticket punched for heaven, then there is little motivation to have a transformed life now. The great transformation will happen when Jesus returns and we go to heaven.

But that is not the hope of the Gospel.

The hope of the Gospel is for transformation to happen right now. For God’s Kingdom to come and His will be done here on earth, today, just as it is done in heaven. The part of this great transformation that we have control over is the change that takes place in our lives.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.  (Galatians 5:22-26; NLT)

The way transformation happens in our lives is when we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and allow him to bring healing to our hearts.

We are to be living with love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest today. This is not a description of what our lives are to look like in the future, but what they are supposed to be like right now.

The bad news in this message is that you and I are unable to bring about the transformation of our lives on our own. Our addictions and our habits and our culture are too strong.

The good news of this message is that the Holy Spirit is our divine helper in this task. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to bring change to our lives.

The goal of salvation is wholeness and holiness. With the help of the Holy Spirit this can happen.

The Fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than a description of a life that has been made whole and holy. It is the type of life that you and I were created to live.

Take 2 minutes and listen to what John Eldredge has to say about wholeness and holiness.

As we experience wholeness and live in holiness the world around us begins to be transformed.

That is why this message is important. Followers of Jesus are not to sit back and patiently wait for his return. We are to pursue the transformation of the world by being transformed.

By pursuing transformation we will experience purpose and contentment. These two realities will bring a welcomed relief to our lives. Instead of trying to create life by our own power we will be living the life that God created us to live.

That is a very hopeful thought.

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3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation? Leave a comment and let me know your thought.

The Most Amazing Truth

Here is the most amazing truth that I know: God loves you!

Take moment and reflect on the reality that the Creator of the universe desires to have a relationship with you.

Not only does God love you, but He is willing to do whatever it takes to be in relationship with you. We can be confident of this fact because of the life and death of Jesus.

I know for some people the truth of God’s love seems too good to be true. They don’t “feel” God’s love in their lives. Instead their lives are full of hassles and problems. In their minds, the presence of difficulties are evidence that God’s doesn’t exist.

I wish I could help them see that this is not true!

God loves us, and His love is all around us.

Now you may wonder how I can write about God’s love as if it were right out there within our reach.

That is because it is.

Rebecca St. James once wrote, “I really believe so many times God ‘calls out’ to us through everyday things and through His creation, and yet we don’t hear because we’re too busy or distracted.”

God’s love is seen in many different ways, but too often we miss it.

We miss it because we are either looking for something that God’s love isn’t, like a perpetual warm fuzzy, or the realities of everyday life have distracted us from what God is doing in our lives.

Remember: Just because you don’t “feel” loved by God doesn’t mean that God’s love for you isn’t real.

I know God’s love exists and I know that He loves me.

The evidence of God’s love for me is found in the love of my family and friends.

I have found proof of God’s love for me through times of prayer, worship, and meditation.

God’s love has been revealed to me in the peace and confidence that I have in my life.

I can see God’s love everyday as I walk among His creation and marvel at what He has done.

All of this pales in the light of the great revelation of God’s love: Jesus.

Remember the apostle Paul’s words from the book of Romans:

When were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8; NLT)

You know why Jesus’ death is the great demonstration of God’s love?

  • God is under no obligation to save us. There is no force outside of God that dictates that He has to save human beings. To save His creation is God’s choice. He saves us because of His character.  It is God’s mercy, grace, and love that compels Him to save us rather than condemn us.
  • God doesn’t need us. Humans do not fill some need God has for companionship. God, being three in one, has all the companionship that He needs. It is His faithfulness to creation and His desire for us to experience true life  that moves God save us. His love is totally unconditional. His love is not based on who we are or want we have done for Him, but based on His desire for people to experience what is best.
  • God experienced pain.  This flows from the previous two. Saving us was not something God had to do, but it is something He chose to do. That choice involved a great cost. Our salvation involved real pain.  Pain that exceeded the physical pain of crucifixion. It appears that as Jesus took on our sins, he was separated from God. We will never fully understand the love it took for Jesus to go to the cross.

Does God love you?

He loves you more than you can imagine.

It is experienced everyday we walk with God. It is seen in creation, in our families and friends, and in circumstances as we surrender to God’s will.

But that is the key.

If you are missing out on God’s love it is time to surrender your life to Him.

When you love someone you have the hope that they will respond to your love.

Rejected love is always painful.

The same is true for God.

God loves you, but for you to fully experience that love you need to surrender to Him.

We don’t experience all the love another person has for us until we enter into a relationship with him. This also applies to God. To fully experience the love of God we have to enter into a relationship with Him. We do that by surrendering our lives to Him.

I realize that this is hard to do. We don’t want to give up control of our lives or be committed to the will of another person, but that is what is required of all lasting relationships. Love will always move us to care more and more for the other person, which will cause us to sacrifice on their behalf.

The most amazing truth in the universe is that the Creator of the universe loves you.

When we grasp that reality, how can we not seek to love Him back?

God loves us.

His love is all around us, calling us to accept Him as our Father and Lord.

You can choose to see God’s love or you can choose to ignore it.

You have the choice to either reject or accept His love.

The choice is yours.

I urge you to accept this amazing truth and make the choice to love.

How have you experienced God’s love? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

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