Monday, December 29, 2014

Eyewitnesses of His Majesty

            Who is Jesus? It is the most important question you will answer in your lifetime. If Jesus is who Christians worldwide and the New Testament claim he is, then whether you choose to follow him will make, not just a temporary, but an eternal difference in your life and the lives of people around you.

            The first disciples of Jesus were amazed by his life, his teachings and especially by his resurrection. The apostle Peter summed up Jesus’ life nicely with this phrase: “Jesus went around doing good!” But for Peter there was more to Jesus than just goodness. The things Peter saw in Jesus made him realize that Jesus was more than just an ordinary man. This was confirmed for Peter in a remarkable event where he, along with James and John, saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. This had to be the most amazing thing Peter had ever seen and he tried to express his joy, saying: “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter rightly realized that Jesus was a very significant figure in Israel! What happened next must have blown Peter’s mind – “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.’” Peter spent the rest of his life doing just that – listening to and following Jesus, the son of God.

            Here is Peter’s remembrance of this event from years later: For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.  (2 Peter 1:16-18) Eyewitnesses of His Majesty! That is a life changing event, for to see Jesus clearly also makes you see yourself and all those around you clearly. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter and John were arrested and threatened to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter’s response is what one would expect from someone who had seen the majesty of Jesus – “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:20) Peter and John, along with the other disciples continued to speak about the majesty of Jesus and the whole world changed!

            We live in a world that is desperate for change, a world that is desperate for Jesus! Yet Jesus chooses to allow the saving message about him to be spread by witnesses who have experienced his life changing presence personally. When we have been eyewitnesses of his majesty, we will never stop telling anyone who will listen about the amazing things we have seen and heard. If enough witnesses are telling the story, the world will change again!  

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

God's Good Gifts - Love

The story of Christmas is a love story. No matter which of the lead characters in the story you look at, all were motivated and challenged by love.

            Mary was all set to begin her life as the wife of Joseph and, no doubt, had dreams of the way her life would unfold. Gabriel’s announcement to her that she would become the mother of the Messiah was a shocking surprise. Quickly Mary decided to accept the will of God for her life and all the changes it would entail. For Mary, love complicated her life. She had to tell her parents about the encounter with the angel and the news of the pregnancy. That was, without doubt, an awkward conversation. Then she had to figure out a way to tell Joseph. Imagine asking someone to believe a story that you could hardly believe yourself! Though love was complicated, Mary said “Yes” and she learned the invaluable lesson that love cooperates.

            Joseph was devastated when heard that Mary was pregnant. He learned in that moment that love can create a heavy strain in a life. He hurt so bad that he could not continue his plan to marry her, but he cared too much to harm her, so he decided to divorce her quietly. He was torn by the strain of choosing from two bad options, and no matter what he chose he would not find happiness! It was after reaching this painful decision that he dreamed of an angel bringing him a message strikingly similar to the claim of Mary. When he awoke, the strain dissipated and his decision changed; he took Mary home as his wife and he agreed to raise the child of God! Joseph learned that love cooperates.

            God remained on his heavenly throne as his son became flesh and dwelt among us. In sending Jesus, the Father allowed the creator to become the creature, with all the limitations that entails. But the Father did not personally suffer the limitations of humanity, rather he suffered the separation of the trinity – what had never been divided was separated. It must have been a painful experience on either side of the divide! The father entrusted the son to a young woman and her husband who had no previous experience in parenthood. That was a risky venture, to say the least. God proved the truth of the meaning of love – love gives! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son!”

            Jesus willingly left divinity behind and became a man. No one can fully understand that statement, except Jesus. Paul tries to explain what it was like with these words: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8) Thirty years after the long awaited birth of Jesus, that baby born in Bethlehem became a powerful prophet who said: “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It’s what love does. Nothing else comes close!

This Christmas – and everyday – thank God for his amazing love. And then show it to others…

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

God's Good Gifts - Peace

            Isaiah prophesied that the coming messiah would be called “the prince of peace!” Christians claim that phrase as a great description of Jesus Christ. Jesus, through his sacrifice on the cross, made peace between God and sinners who are willing to accept his grace. “For God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) It is a staggering sentence – peace through his blood shed on the cross – for out of the violence Jesus suffered he created peace!

            The reason for that is actually quite simple: Jesus decided to stop the hatred and violence by refusing to return evil for evil! Rather than defending himself by destroying his enemies, he surrendered to their evil plans and offered himself as a sacrifice. The decision to take the violence into himself, and return forgiveness for hatred, created something new in the world.

            The people around Jesus were not sure what to make of his amazing act of self-sacrifice. His enemies interpreted it as weakness and were pleased to be rid of him (until the resurrection!). His friends did not understand it either and were almost out of hope, again until his resurrection! It is the resurrection power of God that makes the willingness of Jesus to die himself rather than mistreat others such a wonderful gift. After Jesus ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on Pentecost, they began to understand the full significance of what Jesus had done. The power of peace through loving and praying for enemies was on full display. Listen to their voices as they relate the impact of what Jesus did by choosing peace over hostility:

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” – Peter (1 Peter 3:9)

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” – James (James 3:18)

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men, and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ says the Lord.” – Paul (Romans 12:17-19)

            It takes a great deal of faith to walk the path of peace with Jesus. But we will arrive at true peace – not just the absence of hostility but the presence of love – in no other way. To follow Jesus on the path to peace is the calling of every disciple and the only hope for the world. “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone!”

God's Good Gifts - Hope

            Bombs falling in Ukraine, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, continuing conflict in Jerusalem and Gaza, terrorist groups around the world, peaceful protests and violent unrest in Ferguson and New York City – and that is just the short list of problems that are making headlines and unrest in our lives. It seems that everything is falling apart and there is little reason to hope that anything will improve. Yet if we are honest, while we currently have more access to news from other places at our disposal, the world has always been full of unrest, instability, injustice and war.

            Paul refers to our Father as the God of hope! May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NIV) As God fills his children with joy and peace because of our trust in Him, we overflow with hope. The despair that is always willing to overwhelm us is pushed back by God’s love and faithfulness. Our faith enables us to interpret the world and all its messes in light of God’s plans in Jesus Christ.

            Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus (and us today) that we need to learn to see not just with the eyes in our heads, but with the eyes of our hearts. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19 NIV) He claims that if we can learn to see in that way, we will understand the beauty and power of hope. For Christians, hope does not mean a “wish that is improbable” rather it means confidence in the power and work of God.

And God chooses to do his work through his people – which means we become a source of hope to those around us. Peter recognized this truth when he encouraged us to: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV) Peter understood that in a world where hope was in short supply, people would see the hope displayed by Christians and would want that hope in their lives. Peter wants us to be ready to share our faith in Jesus Christ – he is the reason for our hope!

 Because we live in a fallen world and God’s redemption of his creation is not fully completed, we will continue to see problems that often seem hopeless. However, because we know that God is working to complete the redemption of creation – what Jesus called the “renewal of all things” – we continue to have hope in the face of evil. We are continually told in Scripture to never surrender to the desire to return evil for evil, but rather to do good to those who hurt us, to pray for our enemies! That is precisely where we become beacons of hope. Listen to how John said it: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3 NIV) In our hope, we purify ourselves and live like Jesus. Everyone around us can see the hope in that!

Do more with your life than just curse the darkness, be a light. People need hope!