Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

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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.

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.
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