Paul's Ponderings

Spiritual Formation. Discipleship. Christian Living.

Tag: New Creation (page 1 of 2)

Believe in God’s Future

Have FaithIt is very easy to become jaded and hard hearted on the journey to live out the calling God has placed on our hearts. Even though this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us since we live in a sin corrupted world  with an enemy poised against us.

I am sure all of us can remember  times when the circumstances of life turned sour, when our dreams were shattered, and our hopes were dashed. The result of this reality is that we give up on our dreams thinking that this is as good as life gets. We end up telling ourselves, “Life is tough and we just have to deal with it.”

In his book Wide Awake, Erwin McManus tackles this common experience by reminding us that much of success depends on our outlook:

If you’re going to create the life of your dreams, you’re going to face a lot of failure, difficulty, and obstacles. You’re going to be informed by the world around you that you cannot accomplish what you are setting out to do or become the person you long to become. You will be told it is impossible to accomplish the goals you long to achieve, to create the life of your dreams.

One of the most important characteristics of people who achieve the extraordinary is they live a life of expectation–they expect the good to happen; they internalize optimism (p. 92).

The reason we can live with optimism is because we are connected to the Creator of the Universe. Since God created everything we can see and touch out of nothing and because He resurrected Jesus from the dead then we can know there is no limit to God’s power. We should live our lives in confidence and optimism because of the mighty God we worship.

Part of the foundation of a life of optimism is the hope of New Creation. When we have a belief that one day God, through Christ Jesus, will make everything right,  then we are have a great hope for the future.

This hope provides motivation to do our part to make the future a present reality.

To create the life of your dreams, you have to lean forward. You have to expect, to believe, to live a life that could actually be described as a life of faith. You must live a life that presses into the future. (Erwin McManus, Wide Awake, p. 97)

Our willingness to lean into the future reveals what we truly believe about what God is doing in the world. By seeking to build for God’s Kingdom now and anticipating the New Creation promised by the resurrection of Jesus, we are proclaiming that God is a Promise Keeper and can be trusted to do what is right. It truly is what a life of faith is all about.

Erwin McManus nails it with this:

Faith is about confidence in God’s character, that he is good and true and beautiful. There are many things that are uncertain to us, but we know that God is good, that he can. He can be trusted with our lives, and that we should live our lives in pursuit of the future he paints for us–a picture of a better world he promised would come to pass if we would live as if it were our destiny. (Wide Awake, p. 103)

I think this brings us to two very important questions that we need to ask ourselves:

  • What type of future is God creating?
  • What is my part in making this future a reality?

The importance of these two questions is that they will help us discern which dreams are the most important to follow.  Few things in life are as defeating as the realization that we have put time and effort into something that has little value. We need to be sure what we do and how we use our time is valuable.

Now comes the thought that none of like to hear and that is the idea of sacrifice. Erwin writes:

“I wonder if for many of us, the only thing stopping us from living the life God created us to live–the life of our dreams–is to let go of a life so good that it betrays the great. Are we willing to give up all the things we have right now to be able to obtain that which God longs for us tomorrow?” (Wide Awake, p. 106)

It is a scary thing to give up what we know, especially when it is good, and take a risk on the unknown. Reality dictates that until we leave the place that is comfortable we cannot experience a different place. Too often we let the good things of our life, our present blessings, hold us back from the great things God has for us in the future. We need to trust God and expect that He will bless our lives as we seek to create the future He wants us to enjoy.

It is very likely that the life God has given you as a gift today is the very thing he will ask of you as a sacrifice tomorrow. (p. 108)

While we long to make a difference and do something great, the story of history is that our contribution to the world will be overlooked by the history books. Even worse than being overlooked is knowing that might be fail, that all our efforts and our trust in God might end with no apparent change taking place in the world.

Hebrews chapter 11 is a good reminder for us. There we find a list of all these people who have done great things for God’s Kingdom. Then at the end of the chapter we read of the people who died anonymously for the kingdom. They lived in hope and faith, but they met a tragic end. That is why this reminder is so important:

God is not limited to your success or failure. God is glorified when you simply live your life for the right things, whether you succeed or fail. (Wide Awake, p. 113).

Ultimately this is our hope. It is the answer to the first line of the Lord’s Prayer; “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. ” A life of faith will always bring glory to God, and that should give us hope, especially when things don’t turn out like planned.

To live wide awake is not about finding a way around the suffering or difficulties of life. It is stepping into the life God has for you. (Wide Awake, p. 115)

Progress not Perfection

progess{Philippians 3:12-14; NLT}
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

The way of Jesus is the way of constant growth. You and I were not created to plateau, but to continually be in the process of transformation into the likeness of Jesus. This means that the goal of our lives is progress and not perfection.

We see this truth in what the apostle Paul wrote in this passage from Philippians. In the verses leading up to this passage, Paul talked about the transformation that happened in his life and how he sought to know the power of God that is found in the resurrection of Jesus. Now Paul wanted to make sure the Philippians did not misunderstand what he meant. The Apostle clearly says that he was still making progress in his effort to reach perfection.

The spiritual reality for Paul (which is true for everyone who follows Jesus) was that he had been made perfect. That perfection, which is a gift from God, was not consistently lived out in his life. Even though Paul’s life was change, Paul was not satisfied, because he knew he still had changes to make. Paul longed to experience the “heavenly prize” of Christian perfection. To that goal Paul dedicated himself to two actions:

  1. Forgetting the past. The past is often an obstacle to our future. Sometimes it is an obstacle because the past is a source of regret. We look back and think about everything we should have done differently. This regret can prevent us from making the correct decision for now. Other times the past is an obstacle because it is a source of pain. This pain has come to define our lives, and we can’t move past it. There are times when pride prevents us from making progress. We look back on the successes of the past and remember the “good old days,” and we begin to believe that the best days are behind us rather than in front of us. To make progress we have to leave the past in the past, both the good and the bad. We do this by living with hope as we remember the promises of God.
  2. Pressing into the future. The image behind this phrase is that of a runner leaning forward to break the finish line. To live this way means that have an expectation and purpose for the future. We are not just existing, but we are actually living. The only we will press into the future is by living intentional lives. Our lives are the product of the choices that we make. If we want our lives transformed to experience the new life that Jesus has given to us, then we need to make different choices. Pressing into the future means that we have chosen to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that we intentionally seek to love God and people, and that we have decided to go against the ways of the world.

The reality is our lives are corrupted by sin. The Good News is that in Jesus Christ we have new life! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ushered in new creation. This new creation is given to all the people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus.

The perfection we have received from Jesus is not always seen in our lives. The corruption of sin remains present in our minds and hearts, and often the choices we make are the product of this corruption. We need to seek to bring the spiritual reality of new creation and the choices of our lives into alignment. When we look back on our lives what we want to see is progress, that we are closer to perfection today than we were yesterday.

Let go of the past and press into the future and experience the life God created you to live.

The Power of Grace

the power of grace{Titus 2:11-4; NLT}

11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.12 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,13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.14 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.

The grace of God is an amazing thing. Grace is one of fundamental differences between following Jesus Christ and every other religion and philosophy of the world. God’s grace means that salvation is not dependent on what we do, but on the love of God. God’s love is primarily seen the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through his death on the cross Jesus took care of our sins and rescued us from the clutches of evil. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees us that we are part of God’s new creation. The gift of Grace puts joy in our lives and love into our hearts. Our lives should be different because God has poured His grace into them.

God’s grace has the power to change our lives. No longer are we doomed to live life without hope, without love, or purpose. God’s grace opens up the way for us to live following the example of Jesus and being guided by the Holy Spirit.

In this passage from Titus we discover three ways God’s grace makes our lives new.

1. Our lives are new because God gives us new life. – v. 11
This life doesn’t always feel new because many parts of it stays the same. We will have the same family, many of the same friends, the same job, and the same problems.  This new life gives us new purpose in the midst of the old parts of our lives, and it gives us new hope for the future as we wait for God to come and make everything right. Before God’s grace are lives were filled with meaningless activity as we looked into a hopeless future. After God’s grace our lives are given meaning and purpose as we look forward with hope to the day Jesus will return and save us from this creation corrupted by sin and finish his wonderful new creation.  All Christians are part of this new creation.

2. Our lives our new because God gives us new limits. – v. 12
We don’t like the idea of limits . Though limits are an essential part of life. Limits help us understand what we need to avoid and what we need to do. Every good relationship requires limits. A marriage without limits will not last and a friendship without boundaries will disintegrate. For us to enjoy the blessings of God’s grace means that we need to remain in the limits of God’s will. Since God loves us and wants what is best for us, we can be certain that these limits are for our good, and will bring us the greatest joy in the end.

3. Our lives are new because God gives us new longings. – vv. 13-14
The experiences of this world are often what is the most real to us. This reality means that most of our longings are for the things of this world. We want to make more money, to have better relationships, to be recognized for the work that we do, and to buy some cool things. Yet, if we look deep into our hearts we will discover other cravings. These cravings are actually are deepest longings, and the more we follow Jesus, the greater we experience them. Longings for intimacy, truth, meaning, justice, and restoration. We become more compassionate and generous as we long for the day Jesus returns.

One reason that God’s grace is amazing is 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 new live, we know God’s grace 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 thank Him for the difference He has made in our lives.

Thank You God for your amazing and wonderful grace.

Questions to consider:

  • How does God’s grace make Christianity different from other religions?
  • In what ways have you experienced God’s grace in your life?
  • How has God’s grace made your life new?

Celebrating New Creation

New CreationI was recently asked:  One of the 10 Commandments is to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath, according to the Old Testament, is on Saturday. Why don’t Christians observe the Sabbath, when Exodus 31:16 says the Sabbath should be a perpetual covenant, and instead worship God on Sunday?

When handling questions like this it is important that we are clear on what the passage is stating, this is why context is important.

My first thought was, “What does perpetual covenant mean?” Since I haven’t learned Hebrew I had to turn to my commentaries instead.

Wilbur Fields in his commentary on Exodus wrote, “Israel was to keep it ‘throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.’ ‘perpetual covenant’ is literally ‘a covenant for distant future.’ It does not necessarily mean ‘for an endless future eternity.” (Bible Study Textbook: Exploring Exodus, p. 698)

To me this helps explain why the command to keep the Sabbath day is not repeated in the New Testament. Outside of the Gospels, where we see Jesus often challenging the religious leaders traditions regarding the Sabbath, the Sabbath is mentioned two times. The first time it is mentioned is by the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:16; “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” (ESV)

N. T. Wright wrote; “These rules of diet and ritual marked out the Jew from his pagan neighbors. Failure to observe them implied that one did not belong to God’s people.” (The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon, p. 119). It appears to me what Paul is saying is that we are not to judge a person’s place in the Kingdom based on whether or not they keep the food laws or the Sabbath.

The second time it is mentioned is in the book of Hebrews; “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:8-10; ESV) There is a Sabbath rest that awaits God’s people.

William Lane wrote; “In Hebrews the promise of rest is sharply focused on the unending festivity and praise of a Sabbath celebration at the consummation of history.” (Hebrews: A Call to Commitment; p. 68) The Sabbath we are to look forward to is the Sabbath that comes with the completion of the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Another piece of the puzzle is found in understanding what the Sabbath celebrated and what is celebrated on the Lord’s Day. The Sabbath was a celebration of God’s creative work in making the universe and as the Creator honoring Him as King. This is why the Sabbath was on Saturday, because that was the day God rested from His work.

On the Lord’s Day we celebrate Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus is the “firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23) of God’s new creative work (2 Corinthians 5:17). On the Lord’s Day we are still celebrating God’s creative work, but now we are celebrating the creative work that He is doing through Jesus Christ. We are promised a Sabbath rest, but in the mean time we are to join God in the redeeming work He is doing in the world.

Authentically Human

The Christian hope is not about going to heaven when we die.  Rather it is about the reality that we become new people (2 Corinthians 5:17), because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It is possible for you and I to be the people God created us to be!  There is hope for our lives.  We can be authentically human.

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