Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Page 20 of 165

A New Perspective

a new perspectiveWhen weighed next to our experience the promises of the Gospel seem to be too good to be true. The Gospel provides us with some nice thoughts and can be inspirational, but we have a hard time accepting it as reality. Our experiences: terrorism, miscarriages, cancer, and accidents scream at us that God is not real. When it comes to the way we live our lives we tend to live them based on our experiences, on what feels true, rather than on inspirational ideas.

This is why many Christians in the United States are functional atheists. We find a sense of comfort in our religious traditions, but most of the time we live as if God doesn’t exist. In our more truthful moments we would admit that the way of faith seems to be naive compared to the harsh reality of our experiences.

I think it is important for us to be honest about this tension between the hope of the Gospel and the experiences of life, because it is something many Christians will face during their life. I want to suggest that this tension is not evidence of a lack of faith. Many Christians through the years have struggled to reconcile the experience of their lives with the promises found in the Bible. I believe that this tension is a good thing, because it shows us that we are not content with the way things and that we have a longing for a better type of life. Ultimately this tension exists because we still live in a world corrupted by sin and the fullness of God’s new creation has not been achieved.

As much as we want to, we are not going to understand why this event happened or that event happened. We will not be able to clearly see the line between the free will of angels and humans and the sovereign will of God. There will be times when we fall to our knees and cry out to God, like David did in Psalm 13:1-2:

1 O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (NLT)

This helpless feeling is a common experience to people of faith, and there is nothing I can say that will take this feeling away.

The apostle Paul wrote the book of Colossians to a struggling young church to remind them of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and their initial faith in Jesus. The Apostle wanted these Christians to know that their lives were totally different because of what Jesus had done, even though things in their lives did not feel any different.

In Colossians chapter 2 we discover a lengthy explanation of the foundation of salvation. Paul told the Colossians that their salvation was not based on what they did, on their religious rituals and traditions, but on the actions of Jesus. That sets up Colossians 3:1-4:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (NLT)

As we reconcile the tension between God’s promises and our experience in this world, I think it is important to remember three realities.

  1. We must remember our devotion. The reality of our lives is that we have new life because of Jesus. It may not feel new, but that is the spiritual reality. We can’t see it, but in faith we accept it as true. The only way we can begin to experience this new life is to be devoted to the things of God. Paul told the Colossians to “set their sights” and to “think about” the things of heaven. This was not Paul urging the Colossians to meditate on heaven, rather, Paul urged them to think about God, His purposes, and His ways. They were to pursue these things in an effort to make them a part of their life. Paul wanted them to understand and live God’s will. This could only happen if they were devoted to the things of God. This is how we experience the new life we have in Jesus.
  2. We must remember our death. Paul wrote that Colossians had died to this life. Just as they were seek to be filled with the things of heaven, they had to desire to let go of the things of this world. One of the first steps to following Jesus is the desire to be dead to the sin, violence, lust, power, and greed of this world. Elsewhere (Romans 6:1-4 and Galatians 2:20) Paul claimed we have died to this world by being united to Jesus in his death. This is the spiritual reality, but physically we are still wrapped up in the things of this world. This is why we need to remember to let go of the things of this world, that there is a truer reality, and that is God’s kingdom.
  3. We must remember our destiny. Paul knew it is not easy to let go of the things of this world, because they are desirable to us, they are what we know. That is why Paul urged the Colossians to think about the destiny promised to them in Jesus Christ. The new life that they have is hidden, but one day, it will be fully revealed. This is the source of the tension that we have, the reason why it is hard to believe in the promises of God, because they remain hidden. Yet, if we really do have new life flowing in our veins, if we have really died to this world and live for the things of heaven, then the glory of Jesus is going to peek through. It is this glory that will give us hope to continue on, even when we have doubts about God.

When our perspective on life is blurred by the lens of this world then we are going to have a hard time accepting the promises of the Gospel. It is going to feel like the way of faith is shallow and unreal, while the experiences of life form true reality.

Jesus gives us a new perspective on life and on the world. This new perspective flows from setting our minds on the things above, remembering that we have died to this world, and looking forward to that day when Jesus comes to make everything right as we share in his glory.

As we begin a new year, let us do so with a new perspective. A perspective that focuses on the truer reality of God’s promises and not just on the common reality of our experiences. May we live knowing that the life of Jesus Christ flows through our veins, preparing us for the glory to come.

The outline for Colossians 3:1-4 comes from Sermon Seeds.

Experience Transformation

the journeyEach new year brings with it a sense of hope. We have this hope because the new year is blank slate, and that means it is full of possibilities. This is what the future is for us – a collection of possibilities.

For many of us, we look at these possibilities with optimism, because we believe we can finally experience the life we want to live.

In spite of this hope, many years do not live up to our expectations. We fail to make the changes that we want to make and we don’t do the things we want to do.

Too often we find ourselves stuck in the current of life, as we are swept away in the expectations, crises, and responsibilities that fill our days. We never seem to get around to transforming our lives.

In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard focused on spiritual formation, the way Christians can experience true transformation in their lives. Willard wrote that there is a pattern the brings about transformation. This is true for physical, emotional, as well as, spiritual transformation. This pattern can be summed up in the simple acronym VIM. VIM stands for vision, intention, and means. (p. 85)

I have found this acronym helpful as I have taught on and pursued transformation. Many of us benefit from having a strategy or a plan to help guide our steps, and that is what VIM gives to us.

What does it look like to have VIM a part of lives?

  1. Vision: This is where it all begins. We need to visualize the type of life that we want to have. How would our lives be different if we were physically fit? What impact would it make if we prayed daily? What would it be like to be out of debt? By visualizing what life could be like if these changes happened, we start to increase our desire to have that type of life. We also begin to understand the steps required to bring about transformation.
  2. Intention: The key to intention is moving from a want mindset to a will mindset. Many of us want to have our lives transformed. We understand how our lives would be improved if we lost weight, if we got out of debt, or if we prayed every day, but there is no plan for achieving them. Intention is saying, “I will do this,” and not, “I want this.” It is putting a plan in place to achieve our goals, it is making the choices that will make our goals a priority, and it is saying “No” to every thing that might get in the way of us achieving our goals of transformation.
  3. Means: These are the proper activities that will bring about the transformation that we seek. If we want to be physically fit the means are eating nutritionally and engaging in exercise. If we want to grow in faith the activities include the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, giving, and service. Without the proper means we will fail to train our minds and bodies to behave in the ways we want them to.

How do we start this process?

Take some paper and a pencil and list the areas of change you want to see happen in your life. Pray over the list and begin to visualize what your life would like if those changes happened. The top two or three that seem the most appealing continue to visualize what that would mean for your life and then begin to change your language. Instead of saying, “I want this to happen,” begin to say, “I will do this.” The next step is to organize your life to allow for the appropriate activities to bring about transformation in your life.

Transformation doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work, and if we are not willing to engage in the work, then we will miss out on the full life that God created us to live. Live with VIM and experience the transformation God wants to bring into your life.

 

God’s Grace

God's Grace (1)

{Titus 2:11-14; NLT}

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.

God’s grace is the basic difference between Christianity and all the other religions in the world.

What is grace?

Grace is the undeserved kindness and favor. There is nothing that we have done to earn God’s love, salvation, or blessings. These things are all underserved, but because of His great love for us, God gives them to us. Grace comes from the love and initiative of the giver.

This is one of the reasons that grace is a powerful force. It tells us that God finds us valuable and He doesn’t want our lives to go to waste. That is Good News!

When we believe this reality, grace becomes the catalyst to change our lives. We know that God wants us to succeed, to overcome sin, and to find healing. Grace tells us that God wants us to have new lives. Lives that are made new because of His love, forgiveness, and blessing.

In Titus, the apostle Paul gives us three reasons why grace makes our lives new.

1. Our lives are new because God gives us new life. – Vs. 11

While many of the aspects of our lives will remain the same: we will have the same family, same job, and the same problems God gives us a new life which will extend into all eternity.

Salvation is ultimately the giving of new life. Sin brought the reality of death to all of mankind. Not only were our old lives slowly counting down to the day of our deaths, but they are also enslaved to sin.

Sin has a hold on us. Without the salvation provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus there would be no hope of breaking free from the power of sin.

This promise of a new life isn’t just about the wonderful life we will have in the Resurrection, enjoying an eternal relationship with God, but it is also about giving us a life right now that is is freed from the power of sin and empowered to do good.

God’s grace makes it possible for everyone to live a life of significance and of purpose.

2. Our lives our new because God gives us new limits. – Vs. 12

I know that limits doesn’t sound very appealing. We live in a culture that doesn’t want to be tied down to limits. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We want to buy what we want to buy when we want to buy it.

Many of us view limits as restrictions to the “good life” we want to live. This is one of the great lies of the Enemy.

When we live a life without limits we allow ourselves to become slaves to sin. Being a slave to sin prevents us from living the life God created us to live. Even worse we are powerless to break free from the power of Satan, sin, and death. Therefore, we are hopeless.

In His amazing grace God provided us with limits which are designed to help us avoid sin and to live the lives that He created us to live. It is by living within these limits that we are able to become the people God created us to be.

3. Our lives are new because God gives us new longings. – Vss. 13-14

Our great desires are no longer limited to here and now.

Our dreams aren’t  about achieving the “American Dream” or fulfilling one of our selfish desires for success, but become tied to eternal things. Primarily our  dreams center on relationships: with God and with people.

We also begin to desire for the restoration of  creation to its original state. Many of us have grown sick of the evil and tragedy that dominates every aspect of our lives  and we long for the day when God will make all things new.

As we hope and long for this New Creation we put our time and effort into building for God’s Kingdom now as we wait for Jesus to return. That is the desire that dominates our hope.

God’s grace is amazing because it makes our lives new.

This new life is hard to explain to someone who has not experienced it, but for us who  have received it it has totally changed the way we live.

I hope and pray that we don’t take God’s grace for granted and that we will take time to praise Him for the difference He has made in our lives.

Thank You God for your amazing and wonderful grace.

Questions to consider:

  • How has God’s salvation made your life different?
  • Why does God care so much about people?
  • Why is grace such an important part of the Gospel?

 

LO$T: Back on Track

Money is something that everyone uses. We use it everyday to provide for our needs and our wants.

It is because money is a regular experience for us that we don't give it much thought. Our basic thought when it comes to finances is whether or not we can afford the purchase. If we can, and it is something that we want, we usually buy it.

This is why many Americans are lost when it comes to our finances. We make enough money, but we don't always use it wisely, which puts many of us into debt. Debt prevents us from being as generous with our resources as God desires us to be.

When we are lost and trapped in a mound of debt what we need, more than anything else, is a way out. We need to know that we can escape the pile of debt we are under, and be put on the road to financial health. That is what this sermon seeks to do. Listen to Back on Track.

Remember to like Paul's Ponderings on Facebook. If you enjoyed the sermon make sure to like Bethlehem Free Methodist Church on Facebook as well. Thanks for listening.

 

People of the Book

BiblesWhat is the source of truth in your life?

There are many things that are true, but not everything that is true is equally true. 2 + 2 = 4 is a much more important truth than the truth that I ate oatmeal for breakfast this morning. Math applies to everyone, and my eating habits are only an interest to me.

When we talk about truth we are not merely refering to things that are true or factual, rather are are talking about things that are eternal. In other words the things that put the rest of life into perspective.

C. S. Lewis wrote; “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I think this is a good description of what truth is. Truth brings clarity to life.

The trouble is that when we use the word truth in this manner, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily true. All the different religions prove this reality. Each one claims to have truth and to make sense of life, but the different religions makes contradictory truth claims. Every religion could be false, but they cannot all be true. This means even though a truth brings clarity to our life, that doesn’t make that claim a fact.

This is why it is important to know the source of the truth of our lives. We need to be able to evaluate these truth claims.

For Christians our source of truth comes from the Bible. We believe that the Bible is God’s written word to His people. To faithfully follow Jesus requires us to be students of the Bible.

The apostle Paul wrote this to his disciple Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT)

In this passage Paul highlights three reasons why Christians should be people of the Book:

  1. The Bible teaches truth. If we want to know what truth is, then we need to be grounded in the Scriptures. The truth that we discover on the pages of Scripture reveals God to us. As we study Scripture our eyes are open to the character and purposes of God. It is through the Scriptures that we learn what is good, pure, noble, and right, and how these things apply to our lives. As we learn what is true we also discover the reality that we fall short of God’s purpose for our lives. God gave us the Bible to teach us the true way that He wants us to live.
  2. The Bible convicts us. The Bible not only holds up the truth, but it also convicts our hearts with the reality that we fail to live out that truth. I think this is one of the reasons that we avoid reading the Bible. We do not like to feel convicted and to have the sin in our lives pointed out to us. It is the same reason why I don’t like going to the doctor, I don’t want him to tell me that I need to loose weight. Yet, this is a foolish reason to avoid the Bible. Paul also reminds us that the Bible teaches us to do what is right. It points out the things that we should be doing. For life change to occur we need to know what we need to stop doing, as well as, those things that we need to start doing. I believe lasting change actually happens when we focus on what we need to do, and as we implement those things to our lives, we slowly push the sin out of our lives.
  3. The Bible prepares us. The purpose of our lives is not just to live a moral life. Yes, morality that flows out our love for God and love for people, is essential for our lives. God expects us to be people of love. Our purpose grows out of our love for God and people as we join God in bringing His Kingdom into this world. This includes making disciples of all nations, working for justice, and being good stewards of creation. The Bible equips us to do this. It shows us the way Jesus lived his life and it reveals what it means to be guided by the Spirit. These two lessons are essential in doing the ministry we have been called to do in a loving and authentic manner.

There are many books and religions out there that claim to have truth. For the Christian our source of truth is the Bible. We believe that the Bible is God’s written word to us, revealing what we need to know to live lives of faith. This is why we need to be people of the Book: people who take the Bible seriously in their everyday lives.

 

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