Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Heart of a Servant

            Talk about a title that makes people not want to read the article! Jesus had the same problem when he talked about his disciples living as servants – since everyone knew what servants lived like, no one wanted to obey Jesus and become a servant. 

            That is still true today and is one of the greatest obstacles to the church in our task to share the love of Jesus with the entire world that God loves. There is no shortage of people who want to scream and rant at the world and tell them what they ought to be doing differently! There is a tremendous shortage of people who are willing to wade into the stream of humanity, offering loving service and encouragement, demonstrating the patient love of Jesus.

           But service is not optional for disciples of Jesus. Listen carefully as Jesus gives his personal mission statement: “I am among you as one who serves!” (Luke 22:27 NIV) He also said: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many!” (Mark 10:45 NIV) This is the same Jesus who said: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40 NIV) You will never be fully trained as a disciple of Jesus Christ until you willingly take the identity of a servant – and then get busy serving everyone around you!

            When I was eighteen years old I read “Improving Your Serve” by Charles Swindoll and it was life changing for me. I want to share a passage from that book with you. “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”

            Well, when it is put that starkly everyone can see the foolishness of claiming to want God without really wanting God! Wanting “the warmth of the womb, not a new birth” is the functional equivalent to thinking you can be a disciple of Jesus without becoming the servant of all. And I, like all disciples, completely understand the unwillingness to humble ourselves and serve others. But I have seen what happens when people actually have the faith to follow Jesus to the basin and towel! And Jesus wants service to be at the heart of the Palo Alto church family. I hope that you do, too.

- Kenny Payne    

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lead Us Not Into Temptation But Deliver Us From the Evil One

            Jesus ended the model prayer for the first disciples with a very nice sentence – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Jesus had personal experience with this leading and delivering – if you remember – “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) That seemingly simple sentence has sparked a lot of theological controversy that can be traced in the pages of the New Testament. (It is important to know that the Greek word Jesus used can correctly be translated either test or temptation!)

            James says: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:13-14 NIV) James might not disagree with his big brother Jesus praying “Lead us not into temptation…” but he would be quick to explain that God is not really the source of the temptation! When tempted, we cannot excuse ourselves by blaming God!

            Hebrews says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV) While God the Father may be above temptation, God the Son faced it all just as we face it – yet he did not surrender! He passed the test without falling into temptation! Now he gives mercy (for those who struggle and fail) and grace to help us overcome the test/temptation!  

           Jesus said to his sleepy disciples: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41 NIV) And that gets right to the heart of our testing/temptation problem – we are most often under-prepared and not unified in body and spirit! And then, the fall! 

            But Jesus gives us some amazing help in his simple sentence – speaking to God he asks for two things – leading and rescue! He desires for God to lead us NOT into temptation, but he immediately recognizes that life can never be that easy, so he adds deliver us from the evil one. Do you see the powerful help there?

            We often assume that we are alone when facing the most dangerous tests/temptations (we often work it out so that we are alone!). It is just us and Satan fighting it out. Of course you will lose that one! If God is leading you and then rescuing you it should be obvious that you are never alone when facing the test/temptation! God is with you and he is pulling for your victory. You still have to choose it, but there is help at hand! “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one!” Jesus offers it both as prayer and promise! Claim it…

- Kenny Payne

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Forgive Us Our Debts

            Debt is a huge human problem, it always has been! But things could be very different than they are and lives could be free from the many problems that swirl around debt like devastating tornadoes.

            When Jesus taught us to pray – “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” – what exactly was he talking about? There is an interesting progression in thought and words in the gospels recording this prayer: literal debt – metaphorical debt – sin debt. But when Jesus taught his disciples this prayer he was leading them “back to the future” – mining the book of Deuteronomy for its treasure about how to treat one another in the kingdom of God. Here are some amazing statements about how life could be lived if we would simply pay attention to God.

·         At the end of seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother because the Lord’s time of canceling debts has been proclaimed. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2 NIV)

·         However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord you God and are careful to follow all the commands I am giving you today. (Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NIV)

·         If there is a poor man among you in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8 NIV)

·         There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded towards your brothers and towards the poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11 NIV)

Forgiven debts, generosity towards the poor, openhanded rather than hardhearted people – sounds like a good community in which to live. Of course, a new kind of world will only arrive when we learn to become a new kind of people! When we learn to trust God and love people – then we will see the dawning of a new world.

When Jesus taught us to pray this prayer - “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors” – he was placing us on the threshold of the kingdom of God. If we can manage the faith to both pray it and live it we will become a new people, the family of God! 

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Our Daily Bread

           Bread is such a staple of our daily lives that we almost take it for granted - unless there is none, or it is moldy. I was nearly thirty years old before I took seriously Jesus’ call to pray for our daily bread! Before living in Ukraine and experiencing bread lines, I did not feel a strong need to pray for daily bread since I could just swing by Winn Dixie and pick it up! I said the words – “give us this day our daily bread” – when I recited the Lord’s prayer, but I never felt the power of them. I never felt I had to trust God for my daily bread.

            Jesus lived a life of poverty – he owned very few things – yet you do not get the feeling from reading the gospels that Jesus really ever did without. He spoke of “having no where to lay his head” and yet he enjoyed the hospitality of many friends. He did not have a kitchen (or the rest of the house) yet he was often invited for meals in the towns he visited. The times we are told he did without food were times he was fasting. Jesus did not seem to worry too much about where his meals would come from, rather he trusted his Father and accepted the generosity of the people he taught and healed. Jesus learned to be content in whatever situation he found himself – something he also tried to teach his disciples. Surely his prayer for daily bread, and his trust in the Father’s provision, made this carefree lifestyle possible.

            When Jesus sent the apostles out on the limited commission he told them not to take bread along with them, rather they were to trust the provision of God through the people who would welcome them (Mark 6:8-10). When the disciples suggested to Jesus that he should “send the people away” after a long day of teaching and healing, Jesus countered by saying, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples replied that they would have to spend eight months wages to buy bread for such a large crowd. Jesus taught them (and us!) a lesson about trusting God’s provision that day, as he distributed five loaves of bread and two fish to a crowd of thousands! (Mark 6:35-44) Jesus lived a lifestyle of praying for and receiving daily bread from the hand of God, which he then freely shared with all those around him. He taught the same to his disciples – “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:9)

            If we want to fully mature in Christ perhaps we should pray like Jesus – “Give us today our daily bread.” And once we receive it, we should like Jesus, take it, bless it, break it and give it! No one would be hungry in such a world…

- Kenny Payne