Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

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A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

Commit to Know God’s Will

Bible StudyWe are created in God’s image. One of the implications of that reality is that we are to live out God’s character in our lives. The best life, the life we were created to live, is discovered in doing God’s will.

Since God created us to do His will, then it is logical to assume that God will not hide His will from us. He wants us to know His will.

How do we discover God’s will?

We discover God’s will by studying His word. The combination of the Bible and the Holy Spirit allow us to know and do God’s will.

This is the point Henry and Richard Blackaby make in the book Hearing God’s Voice:

Many people underestimate God’s Word. It is far more powerful than many realize. From Genesis to Revelation God’s Word has the power to speak directly to a person’s heart. By the Holy Spirit, God takes his written Word and applies it specifically to people’s lives…The Bible is not merely one option for discovering God’s will. God’s written Word is the plumb line for our lives as we walk daily with him (p. 91).

If we hope to discover God’s will then the starting point needs to be the Bible. The Bible is God’s revealed word to us, and the Holy Spirit is our divine teacher who helps us understand how God’s will applies to our lives.

Rather than starting with the Bible our starting point, too often, is ourselves: our dreams and our desires. We take the bad graduation advice to “just follow your heart,” and think that this points us to the life God wants us to live.

The problem is that our hearts are not good guides about how to live life. The heart too often is influenced by the moment and ignores the larger truths about the world that we live in. The result  of living by our hearts is that we are led astray from what God’s will  for our lives, as we pursue the life that we want.

It is easier to live our lives based on our emotions and desires rather than submitting to the spiritual discipline of study and prayer to learn what God’s will is. We would rather spend a few moments of self-reflection than doing an hour’s worth of studying the Bible. Yet, it is the Bible that provides us the foundation we need for knowing and doing God’s will.

I know that it is frustrating for God not to provide a detailed plan for our lives, but you and I can spend the rest of our lives aligning to the truth we find in Scripture. God doesn’t need to get anymore specific, and He certainly doesn’t need to get any clearer. The Bible, being the very words of God, give us what we long to have: the knowledge of God’s will.

For us to discover God’s will in the Bible we need to make two commitments. If we do not make these commitments then the Bible will not have any value to us.

  1. Commit to know the Bible. The author of Hebrews wrote; For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12; ESV). The Bible is God’s word and it is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to convict our lives with the truth. That means the Bible has the ability to get to the very heart of the matter. Through studying the Bible God grants us insights into this world as well as into our own lives. This isn’t just about our own personal study, but it also includes studying with other Christians. Find good Bible teachers who will help you discover the truth of God’s Word and a group of people you can discuss the truth that God has been revealing to you with.
  2. Commit to apply God’s word to your life.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25; ESV). It is not enough to know what the Bible says if we do not do what it says. The key to our spiritual formation is adjusting our lives to match God’s will. That is not easy, which is why we need to make the commitment to apply God’s word to the way we live. Without the commitment we will not do it.

We were created to be God’s image bearers in this world. In order to correctly reflect God’s image to the world around us requires that we know what God’s will is. The foundation for knowing God’s will is the Bible. The Bible is God’s revealed word to us, and thus it gives us the knowledge we need to know how God wants us to live. To properly demonstrate God’s character we need to commit to knowing the Bible and obeying the Bible. There is no other way to know and live out the will of God.

The Source of Faith

The SourceChristian faith is more than just belief. Faith is belief and action combined. We can believe certain things are true, but  if those beliefs don’t guide our lives, then we don’t have faith.

The reason that faith and belief are used interchangeably is because belief is the starting point of faith. Without belief faith cannot grow. Our beliefs don’t pop into our minds out of thin air, rather, there are sources that lead us to the particular beliefs that we have.

For the person who follows Jesus we believe that there is one primary source for our beliefs: The Bible. As a Christian I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God that guides me in the life that I was created to live. The Bible is trustworthy and reliable in communicating the truth of God to us.

Recently John Pavlovitz posted on his blog 10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe about the Bible. I find John’s reasoning both naive and shallow. After reading what he wrote, one is left to wonder what the purpose of the Bible is. It certainly isn’t the source of truth that Christians throughout history have believed it is.

What doesn’t John believe about the Bible?

  1. He doesn’t believe that the Bible was dictated by God. Which I agree. That is why we talk about the Bible being inspired rather than dictated. Using the language, talents, and memories of men God inspired them to write the truth that He wanted to share with people. That is why the Bible is diverse and is written from different perspectives.
  2. He doesn’t believe the creation accounts as they are written. Many Christian Scholars don’t, but these accounts are more than just mere poetry meant to inspire. These accounts are meant to teach a people, who were steeped in polytheism, that there is only One True God and He created the world. Despite the similarities that the Genesis account has with other creation stories, it differs on some key details. For instance, many creation accounts happen after a great battle by the gods and the earth was created from the defeated god. We may not be able to rely on the Bible to give us precise scientific information about creation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain truth about our origins.
  3. He doesn’t believe that Bible accurately represents women for our times. Shocker: the Bible was written in a different time in a different culture that had different values! Something that John seems to have missed is the way that the teachings found in the Bible began to raise the status of women. While they are few and far between there are women who are heroes of faith: Deborah, Ruth (who was also a Gentile), and Esther. In the New Testament we read about women involved in ministry and leadership. Romans 16 provides us with a glimpse of the role of women in the early church. Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity has an entire chapter about women and the church as these first Christians interacted with Scripture and sought to live it out. Don’t confuse information about the culture with the commands of Scripture.
  4. He doesn’t believe that the Bible has much to say about gender identity and sexual orientation. In sense he is right because these are topics that are not addressed in the Bible. For the most part they are modern phenomena. The Bible does address the issue of homosexual behavior, which it clearly condemns. The problem we face here is that of Political Correctness, because if we begin to work out what the Bible teaches and apply it to these areas of life, then we are not going to appeal to the progressives and the Social Justice Warriors of our day. In fact everyone is confused about what the “correct” thought should be. In the Bible we discover that God created people male or female. This reality is confirmed by biology. Science teaches us that what determines male and female are chromosomes. Two X chromosomes means you are a female and an X and a Y chromosome means you are a male. This reality remains whether or not you have surgery to change your appearance. It is easy and affirming to teach people to go along with their feelings, but it is hard to tell them to make choices that go against their instincts, even if those choices will be better for them in the long run.
  5. He doesn’t believe that the Bible provides a unified message about marriage, war, violence, or sex. I have written about the message the Bible provides about marriage before. The short version is that God’s ideal for marriage has always been between one man and one woman. Chasity was one of the Christian virtues that set the early Church apart, and therefore I would believe that the Bible provides a consistent message about sex as well. With regards to war and violence, what we see in the early church is that many Christians were pacifists, it was only with Emperor Constantine and the Church gaining political power that there was a discussion about “just war”. What seems to confuse people like John is that God works with people and cultures with where they are in the moment. The fact that God aided Israel in her wars in the Old Testament does not equate God commanding the Church to go to war with our enemies.
  6. He doesn’t believe the Bible is without error. What does he mean by error? Without an example of an error it is hard to point out his error. Here is a transcript of Dr. William Lane Craig talking about inerrancy. Here is William Lane Craig answering a question about inerrancy. The main problem here is that the way John frames this point he is basically saying we cannot trust the Bible.
  7. He doesn’t believe the Bible is the only way we can experience or hear God. That certainly is the reality that we find in Scripture. Moses had a burning bush experience, others witnessed miracles, and others had visions. What the Bible is is the primary way God communicates His truth to us. That is why we are to measure our experiences by the standard of the Bible. We will experience God in different ways, but the Bible will help us to know if those experience are authentic or false.
  8. He doesn’t believe the government should be guided by the Bible. Why this is even a point I don’t know. I guess he wants to appeal to the people who think Christians want to establish a theocracy. Government is always going be guided by people and those people are going to rely on their beliefs to guide them. Whenever there are Christian people who believe the Bible involved in government, then there will be people who use the Bible to guide their policies. It is just the way the world works.
  9. He doesn’t believe the Bible can be objectively interpreted or evaluated. In other words the Bible is a nice book, but we can’t rely on it. Throughout history the Church has found value in the study and interpretation of Scripture. Yes, there have been disagreements about different passages and points of doctrine, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot discover the truth the Bible contains. This is just postmodern hogwash that wants to blur reality and tell people that we can’t really know what truth is.
  10. He doesn’t believe the Bible is worthy of worship. I come from a background that values the Bible. Never once have I ever met a person who was close to worshiping the Bible. The fact that people put a high value on Scripture doesn’t equate to that person worshiping the Bible. This is another progressive claim that has little basis in reality.

John Pavlovitz wants us to know that he is not like those dumb conservative Christians who take their Bible a little too seriously. He is cool and progressive and ready to move with times, even if it means leaving the source of Christian belief behind.

God has given us a great gift in the Bible. Don’t neglect it or minimize it. Read it, study it, and live it.

You’ve Got Questions, We’ve got Answers

I did a podcast today with my brother Tom today. This was our trial run, which means we don’t have a cool name yet, but I think there is enough good stuff to here to share with you.

1. Questions from Chapter One of The Story

Living with Integrity

July 17, 2006

Life is made more difficult when I lack integrity. It is not because circumstances will be more difficult (they might be), but because of the way I begin to feel about myself. I begin to feel like a fraud, a poser, and a hypocrite. Rather than living in the truth of God's promises (i.e. I am His child, I am a saint, I am a priest) I believe the lies of the Enemy. There is nothing that sucks the life out of me faster than believing that I am worthless scum.

To counteract this reality I need to do more than just change the internal dialogue I have with myself (which is important). I need to trust God and believe His promises. I need to live my life based on how God sees me. How does God see me?

One way I discover God's view of me is by reading the Bible. On the pages of Scripture I am able to discover that as a follower of Jesus I am a saint, I am a child of God, I am Christ's ambassador, and I citizen of God's holy nation. I discover that I have been forgiven and have been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. I am also reminded that God has created me for a purpose, which means there is significance to my life.

If I am going to understand the way God sees me I need to pray. I can get the big picture when I read the Bible, but through prayer I can get the truth God has specifically for me. He can open my eyes to good that is in my heart, as well as the sin that continues to lurk there. He can affirm me in my obedience and warn me about my rebellion.

Through prayer I can also break the agreements I have made with the Enemy and the lies that I have believed about myself and the world. As long as I allow those agreements to remain I allow Satan to have foothold in my heart. It is through prayer that I am able to open my heart up to be healed.

If I could learn to life my life from the truth God reveals to me and walk in the healing He has brought to my heart, then my life will look radically different. I would have fewer regrets and more accomplishments. I would be able to feel good about who I am, rather than trying to hide behind a religious mask.

 

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