Wednesday, October 07, 2015

In Christ...Asleep and Resurrected

At the heart of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then his disciples, either intentionally or unwittingly, pulled off the greatest hoax in history. But if Jesus was resurrected then that is the single greatest event of history. If Jesus conquered death, then we all have hope!

            The apostle Paul had an interesting history concerning the resurrection. When he was a young man he was confronted with the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection and he decided that it could not be true. He held that belief militantly, even to the point of persecuting people who believed the resurrection was true. Then Paul had an encounter with the risen Jesus. THAT will change your mind about the truth of the resurrection like nothing else can. Paul was called by Jesus to be his witness to the Gentiles.

            As Paul traveled throughout the Gentile world, nothing that he taught was more difficult to believe than the resurrection claim of Jesus. In fact, in Athens Paul was laughed to scorn because of his belief in the resurrection. The people of Athens, like all people, were completely convinced of the permanence of death! To hear someone make a claim that a dead person had come back to life, never to die again was more than they could accept.

            In the city of Corinth, where Paul went after leaving Athens, he found a willing audience for his message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But several years later, some of those people stopped believing in the resurrection. In writing the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul asked them “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” They could say that because it is not easy to believe. But there are serious consequences if the resurrection is not true! If there is no resurrection then Christ is not raised, your faith is futile, you remain in your sins, those who have died in Christ are simply lost, and we deserve pity because we have built our lives upon a lie.

            If, however, the resurrection of Jesus is based upon truth then there are some good results that flow from that truth. Jesus becomes the catalyst for resurrection for all his people. Those who have died trusting Jesus are merely “asleep in Christ,” not lost forever to us. If Jesus is the resurrected Lord then at his ascension he was truly given the name that is above all names and he is reigning – working on bringing to fulfillment the kingdom of God. When he finally defeats his enemies – dominion, authority, power and finally death itself – he will present the kingdom to his Father. At that point all who trust him will be raised to be with him forever.

            Our greatest enemy is death, but the hope of the gospel is that Jesus has conquered death and brought live and immortality to light! There was a time when Paul could not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But after meeting Jesus Paul could not wait to share in Jesus’ resurrection! “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so,  somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

            “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

- Kenny Payne

In Christ...Boast

            People love to boast. We like to talk smack. We enjoy promoting ourselves. We seem to think that we can lift ourselves up best by tearing other people down. We boast to let others know that we must be taken seriously. We boast as a way to express our trust in ourselves. And that leads to all sorts of problems, for trusting in yourself is not how God plans for you to make it through life!

Here is what God told Jeremiah to tell his people Israel: This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) This warning was (and IS) necessary because people seem to have an insatiable desire to trust in themselves and what they can accomplish!

This desire to trust in self was certainly active in the life of Paul on the day he met Jesus. He was “advancing beyond others his age in Judaism.” He was on a mission to arrest and punish Christians, whom he believed were guilty of blasphemy. When Jesus appeared to Paul he “fell to the ground” both literally and metaphorically. On that day Paul started learning what it means to boast in Jesus and not in himself!

In writing to the Christians in his beloved Philippi Paul said: “We boast in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Yet Paul could remember when he placed great confidence in the flesh and he knew why! He continued: If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”(Philippians 3:4-6) Paul had an amazing pedigree! He also had some great accomplishments! He was willing to stack his profile up against anyone who was willing to challenge him. If the game was trusting in self, then Paul was well prepared to play.

But Paul also knew that the game of trusting in self is a fool’s game. Jesus taught him that and he learned the lesson well. He continues: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:7-9) Paul wanted to make his life a success and he clearly understood that the only way to do that was to trust in Christ! Paul’s trust was amazing…

·         I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20) 

·         From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)

·         Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24)

What do you boast in? Anything but Jesus will turn out to be an empty boast!

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Christ…Persecuted

            Ananias was afraid to go meet Saul, the man who was infamous for persecuting Christians, even at the command of Jesus. But Jesus was determined to have Saul. He told Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) This was not a threat from Jesus rather it was an acknowledgement that Saul would become a mighty spiritual warrior.

            Fast forward three decades and you find Paul (the man formerly known as Saul) writing to his ministry partner, Timothy: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted!” (2 Timothy 3:12) Paul’s summary of his experience on the frontline of spiritual conflict echoes perfectly the words of Jesus to Ananias. If you are engaged with Jesus in the spiritual struggle to bring people to God you will experience what both Jesus and Paul experienced – opposition and persecution.   

            Timothy was a young man who lived in the town of Lystra, where Paul had once been stoned and left for dead by an angry crowd. Paul’s encounters with persecution and opposition were already legendary and Timothy’s heart was drawn to this great spiritual adventure. He decided to accept Paul’s invitation to join the mission team. If he was looking for adventure, he was not disappointed by the events of the next few years! Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and others faced imprisonment in Philippi, riots in Thessalonica and Berea, a court challenge in Corinth, another riot in Ephesus and finally imprisonment for Paul in Jerusalem. Telling the story of Jesus was not something for the faint hearted!

The almost constant danger that followed Paul and his team was the direct result of spiritual warfare – Jesus used Paul and his team to bring many people from darkness to light, and the darkness fought back! It still does.

The sources of opposition to Paul’s ministry included jealous Jewish men who despised his message of including the Gentiles, angry silversmiths who understood that devotion to Jesus would kill their idol making business, upset slave owners who lost their fortune telling business because Paul healed their slave girl, and people who felt threatened by Jesus either religiously, politically or socially. Paul and his team were persecuted because they made a difference in the spiritual battle between good and evil.

Why would anyone want to be part of a team that would face relentless attack for nearly three decades? Why not just play it safe and live a live of peace and calm at home? I doubt Timothy knew that he was signing up for a lifetime of intense spiritual warfare; but more importantly, he did not want to waste his life seeking security and peace while the world around him was engulfed in darkness. He wanted his life to make a difference, to be used by Jesus to defeat the darkness and usher in the kingdom!

As Paul approached execution in Rome, he wrote to Timothy, encouraging him to keep on fighting the good fight! “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Paul passed the baton of leadership on to Timothy and Timothy carried it well.

Is your faith causing you problems? If you answer no to that question, then you need to lay down your safe and secure faith and follow Jesus (and Paul and Timothy) into the battle!

- Kenny Payne     

Friday, September 18, 2015

In Christ… God’s Will

           One of the most powerful questions of life is “What is God’s will for me?” Theologians through the centuries have pointed out that God has both a general will for people and a specific will for individuals. It has been my experience that if I am sitting around waiting for God’s specific will to be revealed to me, it will be a long wait; but if I am working on living out God’s general will, then his specific will is revealed in the middle of that obedience.

            Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica to encourage them to open their hearts and lives fully to God’s will. He gives them helpful guidance concerning that it looks like to walk in God’s will.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:14-24)

            God’s will involves our relationships with one another. Paul reminds these Christians that they are now family because of their common commitment to Jesus Christ. As a spiritual family they are to support one another through warning, encouraging, helping and being patient with each other. This commitment to one another demands a willingness to be involved in daily life with each other, not just to see each other for an hour on the weekend.

            God’s will involves our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Our deepest questions in life focus on being loved and being competent to love and help others. When we come to understand that God is our Father who has a deep love for us and who works for our benefit then we can trust him enough to begin to live in obedience to his commands. That obedience changes the way we experience life – we have a peace and a confidence that does not exist apart from knowing that God treasures us. Knowing that God loves us frees us to develop in our spiritual life – we can grow up to become like our older brother Jesus!

            God’s will depends more on God’s faithfulness than our strength! Paul knew that judgment day was coming, but he also knew that he did not have to stand in judgment with only his strength to rely upon, rather he could stand sanctified and blameless because of the amazing faithfulness of God!

            “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!”

- Kenny Payne  

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In Christ…Faith and Love

            Sometimes people are under the impression that if they can muster up enough faith to live out the sacrificial demands of love, then they can please God and earn their ticket to heaven. While I know of no churches or theologians that actually teach this doctrine, it is a rather common expression of what it takes to be a Christian. Yet nothing could be further from the truth! Asking three questions about grace, faith and love can help us understand what God is seeking to do in our lives.

            Why do we receive grace? Wrong answers to this question have produced a lot of mischief in the church over the centuries! Paul told Timothy, “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). This is good news if ever there was any because rather than having to have it all together to receive grace all that is required is ignorance and unbelief – which seems in almost endless supply! Jesus’ prayer from the cross – “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” – seems to corroborate Paul’s claim. Paul also told Timothy, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9) God gives us grace, not because we earn it or deserve it, but simply because he wants to give grace to us! Pure gift!

            What does grace do in us? Grace does not come to us because we are exemplary, but it does make us examples once we receive it. Paul tells Timothy, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). The grace working in our lives screams “if Paul can be saved, then everyone can be saved!” You can replace Paul’s name with yours and still get the point! Grace also changes the meaning and purpose of our lives – we no longer live to answer the basic questions, “What will I eat, what will I drink, and what am I going to wear?” Rather, God’s grace has “been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In God’s grace death is defeated, life is given as a gift, and we are free to live as Jesus lives!

            What are the signs that grace is at work in our lives? Only after having gotten straight about why we receive grace and what grace does in our lives are we prepared to correctly answer the question about faith and love. Again Paul says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14). Grace is not a solo gift, for when it arrives in our lives it is always accompanied by faith and love. Grace creates a fountain of faith and love that is designed to point people to Jesus Christ. So when you are placed in a situation that demands great faith, do not try hard to work it up, rather remember the grace of Jesus that flows through your life and claim the faith he has placed in you. When you face a person who is demanding great love from you, do not try to love them, rather unleash the love that Jesus has already placed in your heart and life and let it flow to them.

            If your life is lacking either faith or love, the reason may be because you are not receiving the grace that Jesus is trying to give you. If your life is flowing with faith and love, it is surely the result of God’s grace in your heart.

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

In Christ…Way of Life

            Jesus called people with two simple words: “Follow me.” He also offered this amazing invitation to anyone who was struggling with the overwhelming demands of life: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message) Those words were life changing to those who accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow and learn from him. They learned to listen to God, to live by faith, and to love everyone with a patient and graceful love. They learned to live like Jesus!        

Jesus was clearly calling people, not to a system of belief that was disconnected from daily life, but to an ongoing relationship with himself where he would bring growth and change to their lives. Jesus once said, “A student is not above their teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40)  Christianity is a way of living with Jesus as our teacher and friend, as we practice conforming our lives to his. Jesus warned us of the horrible results of just hearing his words without putting them into practice – we become a house built on the sand, without a foundation and in danger in the storms of life. But for those who not only hear the words of Jesus, but make the daily decision to put them into action, we are promised that they will become a strong foundation upon which to build our lives and we will then weather the storms successfully!  

The greatest advertisement for Christianity is a person who not only loves Jesus, but who practices what Jesus taught. The worst advertisement for Christianity is the person who claims to love Jesus but does not live in obedience to his teachings. The truth of Christianity is not changed in any way by whether you or I live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus; however, the attractiveness of Christianity depends on little else!  

In the early days of Christianity, the apostle Paul wrote, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). That pretty much covers everyone – either a stumbling block or foolishness! Yet before long the world was filled with disciples of Jesus Christ. How did that happen? Paul continues: “…but to those who God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25) The message of Jesus Christ is never disembodied – it is always contained in a life that demonstrates love and obedience to Christ. Your life of loving obedience may, at first, look like foolishness or weakness, but in time it will become incredibly attractive! Keep walking in the Way and following Jesus…

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Christ…Freedom

            Jesus was remarkably free. In a world that praised wealth as the “blessing of God” and looked down on people in poverty, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor” and he associated with them. In a culture that denigrated women and even taught men to pray, “God I thank you that I am not a woman” Jesus welcomed women as his disciples and taught them their God given value. In a religion that sought to be holy through separation from those whom they deemed impure, Jesus “was a friend of sinners.” The freedom of Jesus was so offensive to the religious leaders that they decided they had to kill him to keep his teachings of freedom from destroying their work. Jesus was remarkably free, and it made the people around him nervous!

            One of the people nervous about the freedom of Jesus was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. He was so upset with the followers of Jesus that he went from city to city trying to arrest them and destroy their freedom in Jesus Christ. Then he met Jesus and everything changed for him. All the things he trusted as his ticket to the kingdom – his Jewish identity, his family pedigree, his personal accomplishments, his willingness to submit to the traditions of his religion – he traded for faith in Jesus!  And the God of freedom set him free. The one who sought to stomp out the freedom given by Jesus became its best promoter!

            To the churches in the province of Galatia, Paul wrote these amazing words: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1) I find it amazing that a man who was once willing to arrest and even kill people to defend his faith, could so casually describe it as “a yoke of slavery!” But if you read Paul frequently you will know that in speaking to the Philippians he used an even more surprising term! “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-8). All those things he was so proud of and trusted in during his former life he called “loss” and “rubbish.” (In the Greek it is the word for dung!). Only a heart set free could talk like this!

            This transformation in Paul was noticed by the people who were still interested in controlling others in the name of God! They sought to oppose Paul and spoil his work. Paul should have recognized them easily because he was once just like them. But once you have been set free, you cannot return to a life of slavery – even (especially!) religious slavery. So Paul taught these Christians to stand firm in their freedom in Christ. He pushed them to remember that “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love!” (Galatians 5:6) Jesus is remarkably free. He gave that freedom to Paul as a precious gift. Paul shared it with others in an effort to help them live “free in Christ.” It might occur to you that only those who are free can give freedom to others! Jesus offers you freedom – freedom from sin, freedom from oppressive religious systems, freedom to love. Are you ready to live free?

- Kenny Payne   

In Christ…Submit

            Jesus is remarkably free and he gives freedom to all those who follow him. When Paul met Jesus, he was deeply entrenched in the tradition of the Pharisees, the group that Jesus said “tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” After meeting Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul became remarkably free and soon after that he became a champion of Christian freedom.

            Paul challenged the Christians he taught to stand firm in their freedom and not allow themselves to be enslaved again by either the law or sin. Paul himself stood firm for the freedom of Gentile believers to become Christians without submitting to circumcision. For Paul the most important thing was that Christians trust Jesus and not themselves or the law they follow to provide salvation and security. But he also insisted that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

            It may seem like a paradox that Paul could tell Christians to stand firm in their freedom and then say this amazing statement: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)  He then takes it further and encourages Christians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) Writing in the letter to the Romans Paul speaks of the need to voluntarily limit our freedom in order to help other people grow in faith. Paul learned well the lesson that Jesus taught him that freedom is not the ultimate goal of the life of faith – rather love is! This is difficult to hear and believe in the North American culture that says the highest value is personal freedom. Paul says that we are to voluntarily limit our freedom – to eat what we want, to celebrate certain days as having tremendous significance –in order to love the people around us well.

            Paul points out that when people who disagree about “disputable matters” two possible positions – either contempt or judgment. You do not have to look hard to see the truth of this idea: those who think of those who disagree with them as “unenlightened” or “uninformed” are displaying contempt; on the other hand, those who think that their opponent is either “liberal” or “sinning” by their belief and actions are displaying judgment. Neither contempt nor judgment is a loving practice, that is why Paul tells us to avoid them both! 

            When we disagree with others we naturally want to convince them to come around to our way of thinking. If the disagreement is sharp enough, then we switch to a strong desire to “win” the argument. Paul most certainly felt these strong pulls to prove his own position as superior to his opponents. Yet he tells us that as students of Jesus Christ, we win by loving others well and voluntarily submitting to their needs by limiting our freedom. If we “win” the argument by bullying or writing off our brother or sister (using either contempt or judgment), we have failed to love and have, by definition, failed to follow Jesus. As followers of Jesus we can boldly say: “Though I am free, I will use my freedom to benefit others!”

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In Christ…Blessed!

            Everyone wants to be blessed. It is one of the deepest longings of our souls. Quite often we think of material things as the greatest blessings (and they are nice!), but the most profound blessings are always the spiritual and emotional blessings.

            Paul writes, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Ephesians 1:3)  That is an easy sentence to read, but difficult to comprehend fully and to believe! Yet Paul tells us that this is a truth we can build our lives upon. When Jesus prayed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, he did not imagine that it would just somehow happen despite the choices and decisions of people, rather he knew that for God’s will to be done on earth lots of individuals have to choose to listen to and follow the Father. Since you won’t follow someone you do not trust, we must first learn to trust God if we are going to be blessed in the heavenly realms!

            Paul tells us that in Christ we have some significant reasons to trust God: we are adopted as God’s children, we are redeemed from our sins, we are chosen to bring God glory, and we are marked by the Holy Spirit. Talk about some serious spiritual blessings! What else could we need? We are welcomed into God’s family through his willingness to adopt us! We are forgiven of our sins and failures by his marvelous grace the he lavishes on us! We are chosen by God so that he can work though our lives and be glorified because of us! We are given the Holy Spirit to live inside our hearts and minds to confirm our adoption and continuing status as dearly loved children of God!

            But what is God up to by doing all these things? Is he just trying to give us nice experiences so that we enjoy our lives? Or is he trying to do something larger with his creation through us? Paul tells us plainly: With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:8-10) God is working to answer the prayer of Jesus for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and he is using his obedient children as the tools to make it happen! What a great description of the purpose of our faith – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ!

            So if your concept of blessings is that God gives you little gifts that you can enjoy in private, you could not be more wrong. God is giving you tremendous gifts – gifts that will satisfy your soul and ease your mind – to be used to share with everyone around you so that God’s desire for his kingdom to actually rule all creation – on earth as it is in heaven – will become reality. On that day sin will be no more, death will be completely defeated, love will reign on the earth and God will join his family as the holy city descends and God makes his dwelling place with us!

            If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you have been blessed beyond your wildest imagination. You are adopted, forgiven, chosen to bring God glory and marked with the Holy Spirit. Live like it!

            If you have not placed your faith in Jesus Christ, what are you waiting for? Your heart and soul long to be blessed, and Jesus is eager to pour his blessings into your life. Trust him today!

- Kenny Payne