Paul's Ponderings

Thoughts about following Jesus

Tag: Faith (page 1 of 19)

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 Secret to Living Abundant Life

Has your life gone according to plan?

Many of us have a vision of what our lives will look like in the future. Experience tells us that our lives rarely stick according to plan.

My life today hardly resembles that life I thought I would have when I was younger.

You know what? 

I wouldn’t exchange the life I have now for that previous vision for my life. The circumstances of my life tell me that I am exactly where God wants me to be.

When it comes to life one thing that we can count on is life is unpredictable.

On the one hand this is a scary thought because it reminds us that much of life is outside of our control. On the other hand this is how our faith is strengthened. Having a life outside of our control forces us to learn to trust God through the ups and downs of life.

There is a side of us that would like to believe that because we have faith in Jesus then our lives will be easy and good. We may not actually voice it, but there are times when we believe that God should protect us from the bad things that happen in life.

Sadly, that is not one of the promises of the Bible.

The reality is that following Jesus often brings hardships and pain, because the enemy wants to prevent us from living the abundant life that Jesus promised his followers.

On top of that, our dreams, the dreams we created before we knew Jesus or when our faith was young, often get in the way of where Jesus is leading us. These dreams actually become the obstacles that get in our way of experiencing the life that God created us to live

A frustrating aspect of this process is that God doesn’t treat us all the same.

For some God allows great tragedy into their lives in order to prepare them for what lies ahead. Others will have constant obstacles thrown into their paths which will teach them endurance and trust. Still others will seem to have a life of constant success and ease.

When we compare our lives to the lives of those around us will begin to feel like God is being unfair. This feeling will raise its ugly head because God doesn’t treat us the same. There is no blueprint that God follows to direct the lives of each person. Instead, God uses the unique circumstances of our lives to mold us into the people He wants us to be.

Think about Joseph, the son of Jacob, for a minute. (The story of Joseph is found in Genesis 37-50) In the life of Joseph we can see how unfair the circumstances of his life were.

Joseph experienced slavery and false imprisonment in a foreign land while his brothers enjoyed freedom in their homeland.

How can that be fair?

Yet, what we discover on the other side of these experiences, when famine hits and Joseph’s family came to Egypt for help, things had changed. The people were effected by their circumstances.

Part of the reality is that Joseph’s brothers did not have an easy life at home because of their guilt for selling Joseph into slavery.Their guilt softened their hearts.

Even though Joseph went through very difficult circumstances, he was now second-in-command in Egypt. God continued to work in the life of Joseph so he could be in the right position to help people. Being a slave and then a prisoner didn’t make sense to Joseph at the time, but even through those evil circumstances God worked  for good in the life of Joseph.

Things will not always make sense, but we must trust that God will do what is right.

What does that look like?

It looks like doing the next right thing.

When the future is bleak and we don’t know how we will ever come out of the hell hole we find ourselves in, all we can do is the right thing that is right in front of us.

This is the secret to abundant living that we learn from Joseph’s life. Joseph proved himself to be trustworthy and a man of godly character in the bleakest of circumstances.  Why?

He did the next right thing.

This is what God requires of us no matter what the circumstances we have in our lives.

When we remain faithful, in even the toughest of circumstances, God is able to use those circumstances to move us closer to abundant life. What we discover in this process of trusting God is that the life that God has for us is far superior to the life that we thought we wanted.

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Follow Jesus Even When it is Difficult

It is easy to follow Jesus when we agree with what he says.

I feel more inclined to give when I have extra money in the bank, but it is a little harder to be generous when I am worried about paying the bills.

I am okay with loving people people who are like me, but it is more difficult to love someone who thinks and acts differently than I do.

I love to preach about risk taking and stepping out of our comfort zone, but it is next to impossible to get me to do something that I am not comfortable with doing.

A true follower of Jesus doesn’t get to pick and choose what commandments or teachings he is going to obey. A disciple of Jesus spends his life trying to be like Jesus in every way he possibly can.

To be a Christ Follower means that we have submitted our entire lives to the will and teaching of Jesus.

To actually follow Jesus moves us beyond agreeing with the teachings of Jesus to actually changing the way we live based on who Jesus is and what he taught.

Faith is not demonstrated merely when we do those things that we agree with God are right to do, but doing those things God has called us to do that are difficult and uncomfortable.

This is the type of life that teaches us to trust God more than we trust ourselves.

57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
59 He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
60 But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead!* Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
61 Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
62 But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62; NLT

Each of these men had an excuse why they couldn’t follow Jesus right a way.

They believed in Jesus, they apparently agreed with his teaching, but what he asked them to do conflicted with what they wanted to do.

Our faith is developed when we put aside those things we want to do and change long held beliefs so we can surrender to the will and teaching of Jesus.

There were many people who wanted to follow Jesus, but Jesus reminded them what was expected of them.

To truly be a disciple of Jesus wasn’t just about following Jesus around the countryside, witnessing miracles, listening to his teachings, and being part of a spiritual group.

To truly follow Jesus meant to give up everything and do God’s will. This is what separates the followers of Jesus from the fans of Jesus. It is the difference between merely believing and having true faith.

To really have faith in Jesus means that we do the things that don’t make sense to us. Things that are difficult.

Perhaps we give up our well paying job and enter the paid ministry.

Perhaps we pick up our family and move to a different country to be missionaries.

Perhaps we decide to give a little more money even though it will stretch the budget.

Perhaps we choose to quit just sitting in the pew and find a way to volunteer in order to use the talents God has given us.

Following Jesus isn’t about our safety and dreams, but rather it is about doing God’s will.

When we learn to trust Jesus, even when we don’t understand the reasons why or don’t agree with the direction God is asking us to go, that is when our faith is able to mature and deepen.

Following Jesus is about learning to trust God more than we trust ourselves.

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Be An Example

Show me how a person responds to life, and I will show you what he truly believes.

While it is unfair to judge a person based solely on one or two situations, it is certainly true that choices a person makes over the course of his life reveals what he truly believes.

Our lives, for good or bad, are telling the people around us whether or not we truly have faith in what we say we believe. If we claim to be Christians and yet live lives the resemble the world, then we are telling people that we don’t really have faith in Jesus.

Faith is more than what we confess with our lives, but it is also how we act with our hands and where we go with our feet. If faith is just about what we confess then the only value it has for us is a way to escape hell. Instead, faith is to be the path of transformation.

Not only is faith the path of transformation, but it is also an example to follow.

In Scripture we are urged to follow the example of Abraham (Romans 4:16) and Paul urged others to follow his example (Philippians 3:17). We also know that we have been influenced by the lives faithful people. Our faith is connected to the example they gave to us.

What this teaches us is the importance our lives have in influencing others. Just as the example of faithful people influenced our lives, our faithful example can be a powerful influence in the life of another person.

A life that faithfully follows Jesus provides an example for others to follow.

In sense we have to see ourselves as teachers.

To be a good teacher requires us to be knowledgeable about what we are teaching and the ability to demonstrate how that teaching looks in real life. Humans need examples to help us move from theory to reality.

The Pharisees where part of the religious class of Jesus’ day. They interpreted Scripture for the people and taught them how it applied to their lives.

Yet, they missed a key component in their teaching: they didn’t live what they taught. This is one of the points that Jesus confronted them about.

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.  (Matthew 23:1-4; NLT)

The underlying theology that the Pharisees taught was okay. In fact, on many key points Jesus agreed with the Pharisees. The mistake Jesus highlighted was the burden the religious leaders placed on people with laws upon laws.

These men  were able to teach what a  faithful life was supposed to look like, but they could not provide the people with an example of what faithful living looked like.

Jesus did not tell the crowd that the Pharisees had bad theology, but that they had bad faith. Jesus urged the crowd to listen to the Pharisees teaching, but discouraged them from following their example.

As Christians who desire to influence the world for Jesus Christ it is essential that we remember that there are two parts to effective teaching: communicating true ideas and letting putting those ideas to practice in your life.

When our lives do not reflect the truth of the Gospel then people will wonder whether or not the Gospel is really the truth.

The best evidence for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are the faithful lives of his followers.

When we live faithful lives we make the teachings of Jesus come alive.

Without our example Jesus’ teachings remain simply a theory – a nice way to live.

Having the truth doesn’t do us or anybody else any good if we don’t apply that truth to our lives.

The life of faith is the life that is lived based on the truth that we know.

As we live out the truth we believe we become examples for other people to follow.  This is how Jesus is able turn ordinary people into lights of the world. Be a light worth following.

Who have been positive examples in your life? Leave me a comment and let me know about the examples you have had in your life.

We Need to Live the Truth

live-the-truth

The truth is important because it points us to what we need to do.  This is especially true for those of us who follow Jesus.

If we are not acting on the truth we have been taught then we are not really following Jesus. Remember that Jesus is the Truth. To be a disciple of Jesus requires action and not just belief.

When it comes to evaluating our lives, I believe we need to begin in this question: do our lives reflect the truth we believe?

The trap that many Christians fall into is passing judgment on the world. We love to shine a light on what other people are doing wrong, but we hate to shine that light inwards. We don’t want to be reminded of the ways we fail.

This is why I hate going to the doctor.  I hate being reminded that I need to lose weight. The issue with my weight isn’t that I don’t know that it is a problem, it isn’t a lack of knowledge of what to do, but it is a lack of action. I don’t use my knowledge, rather I allow my flesh to guide me. This leads me to give into cravings more often than not.

Getting the right information is easy, but because you have to fight against habits and addictions, it is often difficult to change behavior. Remember: Knowledge doesn’t translate into action. This is why James said that faith without works is dead. If faith did not require action, then having the right knowledge would be enough.

The issue of action isn’t just about us and our relationship with God. This issue is also about what will bring the greatest benefit to the Kingdom of God.  William Barclay wrote, “The world is full of talk about Christianity, but one deed is worth a thousand words.”

Our deeds and the way we choose to live make all the difference in the world. When we live out our beliefs our actions become the very evidence people need to know that the Gospel is true.

The knowledge of truth is essential to the life of faith.

I have also been around long enough to realize that the intellectual pursuit of truth  can overwhelm the ordinary person. This is not to say that the works of the scholar and the apologist are not important, but it is to say that what many people are looking for is something that is practical rather than something that is intellectual. It is crucial to remember that the average person wants something that makes sense of life right now, and not something that will take a long time to figure out.

When we live out the truth God has revealed to us, we demonstrate that God’s Word is relevant to people’s lives today. Our lives provide the context of what it means to live a life of faith and to follow Jesus. Our hope is that our actions will make people stop and wonder why we live the way we do. A few might even be drawn to the life of faith that we live.

Peter wrote:

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT)

In order to live the truth we have to first worship Jesus as Lord. We are not going to obey Jesus if we don’t not believe that he  the Son of God. What we believe about Jesus is going to have a ripple effect through out our entire life.

Not only do we have worship Jesus, but we need to live with hope.  Hope is the result of the trust we have in the promises of God. When we trust that God will keep His promises, then our lives will be lived out in the context of hope.

The result of living by truth, according to Peter, is that people will be drawn to Jesus. Notice what Peter wrote, we need to be ready to explain our hope. In other words, people will notice that we differently, and that will lead them to ask us about our secret. Peter wants us to be ready to tell people know about the hope available in Jesus.

The first step in guiding people to the truth of the Gospel is to live the truth. One of the ways people judge truth is based on whether or not it works. By living out the truth we believe we provide people the opportunity to judge the merits of the Gospel.

We need to speak the truth, but never forget the importance of living the truth. It is the evidence that some people need for believing the Gospel.

 

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