Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Commitment of our Hearts


One of the amazing promises of the Gospel is that new life is available in Jesus Christ.  This is the life that God created us to live.

In John 10:10, the very passage Jesus declared his purpose to give people abundant life, Jesus called Satan a thief who steals, kills, and destroys the life God has given to people. Through Jesus, God gives life, but Satan is out there to make sure that life is not enjoyed.

One of the ways Satan robs us of life is to convince us of lies about who we are. When we believe these lies we are prevented from taking the next step forward, we are held down with oppressive guilt, and we are impeded from developing relationships that bring accountability and encouragement into our lives. It is hard to step out in faith when you believe that you are fatally flawed in your character.

The reason these lies are believable is because we know our weaknesses. Each one of us have sin in our lives that we have struggled with for years, and yet have not overcome.

You may have tried to stop gossiping, but every now and then you can’t resist the temptation to pass along a particular juicy bit of information. Perhaps you have tried to quit telling “dirty” jokes, but when you get together with the guys you can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to join in. Then there are the things that you do when no one else is around, from what you look at on the internet to the movies that you watch. All followers of Jesus have sin that seems to stick with them, no matter how much they hate it and struggle to overcome it.

Please remember, this is a common experience for everyone who follows Jesus. Yes, God wants us to overcome the sin in our lives. Sin hinders our relationship with Him and is a stumbling block in our effort to reach out to others with the grace of God.

It is true that God desires sinlessness, but it is also true that God has also promised us forgiveness. John wrote:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9; NLT)

What John wanted his readers to understand is that God knows we are going to sin, and so He promised to forgive those people who confess and repent. That is great news, and should be a welcome relief in the midst of our guilt and shame.

I believe the implication of this reality is that God is pleased when we enter the battle against sin and start to take action against those behaviors that hold us in bondage. It is through this struggle with sin that God shapes us into the people He wants us to be.

Every sin you commit doesn’t make you a moral failure. As long as we live in these bodies of flesh in a world that is dominated by evil (things opposed to the life God wants us to live) we are going to sin. We need to remember the amazing grace of God, for without the safety net of grace every sin would result in our destruction.

Not only is God patient with us, but He is also actively at work to give us the ultimate victory from sin. We cannot undo the consequences of our sin. This means our only hope is to be rescued from sin. That is what Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection.

This rescue operation doesn't happen overnight. It is a life long process, and this is why the New Testament says we are saved, we are being saved, and that we will be saved. Our rescue began the moment we put our faith in Jesus and it continues until Jesus comes again.

The reason for this long process is because we habits that have been ingrained into our lives through years of repeated behavior, and therefore it will take months, if not years, to overcome these behaviors. In this struggle we are going to win battles and we are going to lose others. It is an act of faith, and it pleases God, when we engage the enemy and begin the long campaign to rid our lives of sin. This is the process needed to develop holy character.

The writer of Hebrews wrote about this truth:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.(Hebrews 12:1-4; NLT)

These witnesses to the life of faith all struggled with sin in their lives. The great icons of faith in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, and David) had periods of life when they disobeyed God and sinned, but God still counted them as righteous. Why did God do this? Because their hearts belonged to Him and they were willing to follow God wherever He led them.

What matters most to God is the commitment of our hearts.

We can beat ourselves up because we still have sin in our lives, but God is pleased when we faithfully follow Him. I am not saying sin is unimportant, what I am saying is that when our hearts belong to God then sin becomes insignificant.

Sin is insignificant because it is no longer our identity. By trusting Jesus our true identity is found in him and we are now counted as part of God's Kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14).

Satan will attack us and try to get us to doubt our salvation by reminding us of the sin we cannot throw off. He wants us to get frustrated and give up.

The Gospel declares that Satan doesn't have the final word. The final word belongs to God, and He has declared that everyone who follows Jesus is Holy (Colossians 1:22). That is the word that we need to hold on to in our effort to become the people God created us to be.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

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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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Live as Free People



You and I have certain rights simply because we are people.

In the Christian tradition we believe that these rights are a gift from God. These inalienable rights declare that people are equal.

We are not equal in talent, intelligence, beauty, strength, wealth, privilege, or a number of other variables that set people apart from one another. We are equal in that we have the same right to life, self-determination, and responsibility as everyone else has.

The way this equality should be seen is in how people are treated under the law. It shouldn't matter who you are, equal protection should be given to everyone.

You and I are free people, but that doesn't mean that we are able to whatever we want to do. To protect the liberty given to us by God requires living in a certain manner.

Consider the following quote attributed to Samuel Adams:

He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man...The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people.

What does a free life look like?

According to Samuel Adams the person who enjoys freedom is the person who lives a virtuous life. This is a crucial thought.

Often when we talk about freedom and liberty the focus is on what we are free to do.

"Is this activity legal?" we ask.

We declare, "It is my life I am free to make my own decisions!"

While it is true that freedom often allows you to make all types of choices, that doesn't mean that those choices are equally beneficial.

Enjoying the benefits of freedom is not the same preserving freedom.

I believe that the number one reason why people lose their liberty is because of poor choices. Yes, their freedom allows them to make those choices, but those choices end up stealing their freedom.

Should a person be free to use drugs?

Yes!

God has gifted them personal responsibility and free will.

Admitting that a person has the freedom to use drugs is not the same thing as proclaiming  drug use as a positive thing. The addiction and personality change that can accompany drug use, even with alcohol, is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a self created prison that many people cannot escape.

This reminds me of what the apostle Peter wrote.

In 1 Peter 2:16 we read; Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (ESV).

Peter taught us that we are to live as free people.  The best way for us to live as free people is to live as servants of God.

I know this idea is counter-intuitive, that true freedom is found in being a servant, but when we obey God, we are not being oppressed by some tyrant. Rather, we are being directed by the Creator of the Universe: the One who knows the best way for people to live.

Ultimately freedom is found by living out God’s design for our lives. The way we enjoy freedom is to be faithful to God's will for us.

Please understand this: No one can rob us of our freedom.

Even if someone takes over and destroys the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, we are still able to live free lives.

The reason for this is because it is not the government that makes us free.

Freedom is a gift from God. The choices we make, even under an oppressive government, are what enable us to enjoy God’s gift of freedom.

Have hope!

God, in His great wisdom and mercy, placed the control of our lives in our hands.

The choices that we make determine the level of freedom we enjoy. God left it up to us to decide whether or not we will live with freedom. This freedom is not about doing whatever we would like to do. Freedom is ultimately about choosing to live the life God planned for us to live (see Ephesians 2:10).

The ability to be free is discovered in the choices we make. Choose to follow Jesus and enjoy real freedom.

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Way of Jesus



We are told that we are living in a divided nation.

All the various media outlets are telling us about protests and vandalism and how the United States is no longer a safe place for minorities.

One group of Americans is telling another group that they are racist and sexist because of the way they voted. The other group of Americans responds by saying they rejected a candidate who was corrupt and would further destroy the foundations of the country.

The deep divisions that make up the very soul of American political life are on full display. There is no getting around the reality that there are two vastly different visions for the United States.

On the one hand you have people on the left who declare that equality is the value that must guide us into the future.

On the other hand you have people on the right who declare that we must remain true to the principles and traditions that the United States was founded on.

Each side views the other with skepticism, derision, and intolerance.

If you have spent any time on social media you know the names and the accusations that are being flung back and forth: “You are ignorant!” one side screams and the other side fires back, “You are a bigot!”

It it is a fruitless exchange as nothing gets resolved and blood pressures rise. All you want is unity, but you are told that unity is impossible because those people on the other side are terrible people.

What are followers of Jesus Christ to do?

As simplistic as it might sound we are to follow Jesus.

It may sound simple, but it is not simple to do. There are going to be people on both sides of the aisle declaring that this or that is the most important thing and that is what deserves our attention. Many of these people will invoke the name of Jesus to try to convince us that their side is the one we must choose.

When we pick a side in this political war we simple give into the hate and the division that continues to tear apart relationships, families, churches, communities, and countries.

There is a better way, and that way is the way of Jesus.

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29; NLT)

Unity is possible. It is the product of people who are rallied around a common idea, purpose, or person. Unity is achieved in football stadiums and concerts. People brought together because of their shared love for a team or a band.

This type of unity is flimsy and cannot survive the constant threat of division. This threat comes from the powers that constantly looks to divide people into different groups.

There is only one power that is great enough to overcome these wall building powers, and that is the power of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus is to be the rallying point that brings true unity.

Jesus came to tear down walls. That can only be accomplished when we have our faith in him.

Within his small group of 12 disciples Jesus had at least two men who were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was Simon the Zealot who wanted nothing more than to fight against the Romans and restore Israel's independence. There was Matthew the Tax Collector who believed that compromise with the Romans was the best policy.

Jesus united these men with a common purpose.

How did he do that?

Jesus rejected the politics of the world.

Satan offered Jesus the keys to all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus held fast to God's way to bring redemption to creation (Luke 4:5-8). After his miracles of healing and feeding the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, but Jesus withdrew to the wilderness (John 6:15). The crowd shouted hosanna and proclaimed Jesus king as he rode into Jerusalem, but Jesus stopped and wept over the city because they missed his true identity (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus came to  establish God's Kingdom, but he rejected politics as the way to accomplish this task. He called his followers to make disciples of the nations, not by the power of the sword (the true power behind politics), but the power of sacrificial love.

The way for the Church to be the starting point for unity is for Christians to follow the way of the Lion, who became a lamb, who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6).

We are saddened by the deep divide that exists in our country. Healing can only happen if we reject politics and follow Jesus. Will you join me?

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Most Amazing Truth


Here is the most amazing truth that I know: God loves you!

Take moment and reflect on the reality that the Creator of the universe desires to have a relationship with you.

Not only does God love you, but He is willing to do whatever it takes to be in relationship with you. We can be confident of this fact because of the life and death of Jesus.

I know for some people the truth of God's love seems too good to be true. They don’t “feel” God’s love in their lives. Instead their lives are full of hassles and problems. In their minds, the presence of difficulties are evidence that God's doesn't exist.

I wish I could help them see that this is not true!

God loves us, and His love is all around us.

Now you may wonder how I can write about God’s love as if it were right out there within our reach.

That is because it is.

Rebecca St. James once wrote, “I really believe so many times God ‘calls out’ to us through everyday things and through His creation, and yet we don’t hear because we’re too busy or distracted.”

God’s love is seen in many different ways, but too often we miss it.

We miss it because we are either looking for something that God’s love isn’t, like a perpetual warm fuzzy, or the realities of everyday life have distracted us from what God is doing in our lives.

Remember: Just because you don’t “feel” loved by God doesn’t mean that God’s love for you isn’t real.

I know God’s love exists and I know that He loves me.

The evidence of God's love for me is found in the love of my family and friends.

I have found proof of God’s love for me through times of prayer, worship, and meditation.

God’s love has been revealed to me in the peace and confidence that I have in my life.

I can see God’s love everyday as I walk among His creation and marvel at what He has done.

All of this pales in the light of the great revelation of God’s love: Jesus.

Remember the apostle Paul's words from the book of Romans:

When were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:6-8; NLT)

You know why Jesus’ death is the great demonstration of God’s love?


  • God is under no obligation to save us. There is no force outside of God that dictates that He has to save human beings. To save His creation is God’s choice. He saves us because of His character.  It is God's mercy, grace, and love that compels Him to save us rather than condemn us.
  • God doesn’t need us. Humans do not fill some need God has for companionship. God, being three in one, has all the companionship that He needs. It is His faithfulness to creation and His desire for us to experience true life  that moves God save us. His love is totally unconditional. His love is not based on who we are or want we have done for Him, but based on His desire for people to experience what is best.
  • God experienced pain.  This flows from the previous two. Saving us was not something God had to do, but it is something He chose to do. That choice involved a great cost. Our salvation involved real pain.  Pain that exceeded the physical pain of crucifixion. It appears that as Jesus took on our sins, he was separated from God. We will never fully understand the love it took for Jesus to go to the cross.


Does God love you?

He loves you more than you can imagine.

It is experienced everyday we walk with God. It is seen in creation, in our families and friends, and in circumstances as we surrender to God's will.

But that is the key.

If you are missing out on God’s love it is time to surrender your life to Him.

When you love someone you have the hope that they will respond to your love.

Rejected love is always painful.

The same is true for God.

God loves you, but for you to fully experience that love you need to surrender to Him.

We don't experience all the love another person has for us until we enter into a relationship with him. This also applies to God. To fully experience the love of God we have to enter into a relationship with Him. We do that by surrendering our lives to Him.

I realize that this is hard to do. We don't want to give up control of our lives or be committed to the will of another person, but that is what is required of all lasting relationships. Love will always move us to care more and more for the other person, which will cause us to sacrifice on their behalf.

The most amazing truth in the universe is that the Creator of the universe loves you.

When we grasp that reality, how can we not seek to love Him back?

God loves us.

His love is all around us, calling us to accept Him as our Father and Lord.

You can choose to see God’s love or you can choose to ignore it.

You have the choice to either reject or accept His love.

The choice is yours.

I urge you to accept this amazing truth and make the choice to love.


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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Being Truly Religious – Paul's Ponderings



Do you consider yourself to be a religious person?

I know I do, in spite of the fact that I am told that Christianity is a “relationship not a religion.”

Religion is not a bad thing. Religion is the system of practices that guide people in worship and grow in their knowledge of God. In other words, religion is how we have a relationship with God.

We are not to avoid religion, but the religious spirit. This is what Jesus condemned in the religious leaders of his day. These leaders put a greater emphasis on following the regulations and rituals of their religion than truly having faith in God.

Continue reading Being Truly Religious – Paul's Ponderings.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Living What We Believe – Paul's Ponderings

What does faith look like?

In American culture we usually associate faith with belief. For many it isn’t even just belief, but specifically belief without evidence. To be a person of faith means to believe things without evidence, or even,contrary to evidence.

That is not how the Bible talks about faith.

Belief and faith are connected. Belief is the starting point of faith. The writer of Hebrews wrote; “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6; NLT)

Without belief faith could not exist.

That is because belief is the seed of faith. Belief needs to be planted and watered for the plant of faith to emerge.

Continue reading at Living What We Believe – Paul's Ponderings


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The Commitment of our Hearts

One of the amazing promises of the Gospel is that new life is available in Jesus Christ.  This is the life that God created us to live. ...