Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Theology of Suffering

          Most Christians believe two things that are both true, but do not fit well together. The first is the observation that times of trial and suffering are also very generative of growth. The second is that, while they want to grow spiritually, they want to avoid trials and suffering if at all possible. It seems that every one wants to grow, but no one wants to suffer to achieve growth!

Notice these statements from Scripture concerning the value of suffering for Jesus:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (Hebrews 2:10 NIV)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9 NIV)

Suffering served to make Jesus perfect (in the sense of mature, complete) and taught him obedience. While we may all intend to obey, you cannot know if you are obedient until you are in the situations that both demand and threaten obedience. Jesus faced those times of trial and suffering and came through thoroughly obedient!

            His disciples paid attention. Peter claimed to be a “witness of Christ’s sufferings.” Peter knew what it was to place survival above obedience, and he watched Jesus place obedience above survival. Seeing Jesus’ obedience in the face of suffering changed Peter forever. He wanted other people to see and change as well. Listen to Peter’s charge to his fellow believers: But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 NIV) 

Paul was one who inflicted suffering on those who followed Jesus, but then once confronted with the risen Christ he changed and became an apostle of Jesus. Ananias was reluctant to go to Paul when Jesus called him and Jesus assured him that “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16) Listen to these words from the persecutor turned evangelist: 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 NIV)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

            No one wants to suffer, but the quickest path to growth is to stand firm in your faith and to learn obedience through difficult trials! It was a blessing for Jesus, Peter and Paul and will also bless your life, too!
- Kenny Payne

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Choose Carefully Your Path Through Life!

            Today we are honoring our graduating seniors. This is an important milestone in their lives, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. Graduates make a lot of important decisions around this time in their lives with far reaching consequences. As their spiritual family we want to encourage them to choose wisely.
            In truth, we are all choosing how we will walk through the life we have been given. Jesus encouraged us to choose carefully the path we walk through life. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
            Here is that same passage from The Message: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
            Vigorous and demanding our total attention! That is a great description of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Every day we choose – in a wide variety of ways and situations – which path we will walk. “Broad way” is well beaten and fully populated, making it quite easy and popular to walk. “Narrow way” is less populated and presents many challenges from those who choose to walk it. Jesus says to choose the narrow way because it leads to life!
            Currently there is a lot of attention being given to divergent paths – and Christians often feel that their way of life is under attack. We should understand from Jesus (along with all the other New Testament writers) that our choice to walk the narrow path will never be appreciated by those on the broad way. This is true in all times and in all places – followers of Jesus will always be misunderstood and harassed by those who do not follow. But we are told this from the day we decide to take a step down the path of righteousness. We walk with Jesus, not to the applause of the unbelieving world.
            C.S. Lewis once said: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." We want to encourage everyone, and especially our young people, to be people who say to God – “Not my will, but yours be done in my life!”
- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Following the Prince of Peace

            When we decided to follow Jesus, we knew that we would be expected to become like him. That is an intimidating thought, because, of course, Jesus is perfect! (and, remember, we are not!). Sometimes disciples are tempted to notice the great difference between themselves and Jesus, using that distance as an excuse for disobeying Jesus.  Listen to this…

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)

             Everything within me wants to resist an evil person. Hearing these words from Jesus makes me think he is “rewarding bad behavior!” I want to scream, “How will that evil person ever learn to be good if I just let him practice his evil?” It turns out that Jesus is not talking to the evil person, rather he is talking to his disciple! Jesus is willing to leave the evil person in the hands of God – who is perfectly capable of rendering just judgment and executing fair punishment, if need be. But Jesus is very interested in teaching his disciple how to live in such a way that he or she never becomes the evil person! And that is why this is such a difficult teaching.

            Here are some wise words from Stanley Hauerwas: “A people of truth is sure to have enemies. This makes Jesus’ command against retaliation-as well as his call for those who would follow him to love their enemies-all the more extraordinary. He does not promise is that if we turn the other cheek we will avoid being hit again. Non-retaliation is not a strategy to get what we want by other means. Rather, Jesus calls us to the practice of non-retaliation because that is the form that God’s care of us took in his cross.”

Peter picks up this theme from Jesus when he writes “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  (1 Peter 3:8-9) We have been called to follow the “Prince of peace.” He set the example for us in turning the other cheek, in giving his all to those who asked, and in going the extra mile. When we follow, we may have hurting cheeks, but we will also have a proud savior – and we will inherit his blessing! Keep following Jesus…

- Kenny Payne


Thursday, May 01, 2014

It is Good for You if I Go Away!

           Jesus once told his disciples, But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7 NIV) I am sure that the disciples could not imagine a situation in which they would agree that it was for their good for Jesus to leave them!

Jesus was their teacher, who patiently taught them about God, the heavenly Father, and how to live under His rule. Jesus was their leader who was constantly pushing them to grow in their faith and their own leadership skills. Jesus was their constant companion, and although it was often frightening to see Jesus’ power revealed, it was also a great comfort to have Jesus present in hard times! Jesus was their hope, the rabbi they followed through the tough times because they fully expected to be richly rewarded in the coming good times!  Jesus – teacher, leader, companion, and hope! How could it possibly be good for Jesus to leave them?

Jesus told them that if he left them, he would send the Advocate (Holy Spirit). While they were familiar with the Holy Spirit from the ministry and teaching of Jesus, they could not imagine (before Pentecost) the multiple ways the Holy Spirit would be as great a friend and leader as Jesus had been for them.

Peter claimed that Jesus was even more beneficial in his fight against the forces of darkness while at the right hand of God than while here on earth. “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’     (Acts 2:34-35 NIV)  

Paul says that Jesus is now our intercessor in the presence of God the Father. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:33-34 NIV) The disciples had seen Jesus praying intercessory prayers, but to understand that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God with immediate access to the throne of grace would be life changing!  

            Everything that was lost by the ascension of Jesus has more than been made up for by the sending of the Holy Spirit, the powerful waging of spiritual warfare by Jesus and his amazing intercession on behalf of his people. As hard as it was to believe, Jesus was exactly right when he said “It is good for you that I am going away!” Kind of makes you want to say, “Of course, Jesus was right about that!” Keep walking by faith…

- Kenny Payne

The Difference of Gospel Centered Living

            In his letter to first century Christians who lived in a very challenging environment, Peter said these amazing words. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which was against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:11-12 NIV)

            This call for a “gospel centered lifestyle” is as urgent today as when Peter first penned the words nearly 2,000 years ago. While the times have changed, human nature and the pull towards selfish, sinful indulgence remain as strong as ever. Peter’s counsel is for disciples of Jesus to replace their selfish, sinful desires with an unshakable commitment to goodness. When reading it, you immediately want to say, “Yes, I will do this.” But when you actually start to live it out, you realize that it is much easier said than done. You need lots of tools in your toolbox if you plan to live like Jesus!

            Peter had seen some success in following Jesus, but he had also experienced some devastating failures along the way. Through a life of trial and error he discovered many tools in his effort to live like Jesus and he passed them along for those who shared his desire to live as a disciple. Notice these “life laboratory” situations he highlights…

  • “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…” (1 Peter 2:13)
  • “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters…” (1 Peter 2:18)
  • “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…” (1 Peter 3:1)
  • “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives…” (1 Peter 3:7)
  • “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called…” (1 Peter 3:8-9)
Peter’s list of tools sounds rather weak: submission, respect, consideration, love, compassion, humility, non-retaliation, and goodness. We much prefer this list: self-assertion, dominance, demands, power, intimidation, pride, and vengeance. Whether we are talking about interpersonal relationships or international politics choosing between these two toolkits will create predictable results. Goodness produces more goodness, violence produces more violence.   

G. K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” And yet Jesus is still calling us to follow him! Relationships, especially the difficult ones, are the equivalent of advanced studies for those who want to follow Jesus! Practice goodness…

- Kenny Payne