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

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

In Christ…Full!

            People in our culture sense emptiness in their very souls that they desperately want to fill. The response of our culture has been to teach them to consume – everything – in great quantities! Yet the emptiness remains.

            St. Augustine (354-430) addressed this idea of existential emptiness with this famous quote: “Lord, you have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Writing over 1,000 years later, Blaise Pascal (1623-62) said: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.” These two statements seem to be the foundation for the claim that “In every human heart there is a God-shaped hole that only God can fill.”

            I am sure that, if you have slowed down enough to think about it, or if you are ever awake in the middle of the night, you are aware of this nagging sense of emptiness. There is great news concerning this condition! For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” (Colossians 2:9-10)

            Paul says a lot here in just a few words. First, the idea that all the fullness of God could possibly dwell in a human body is a staggering thought. Paul says in Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant” and that in response to this self-emptying and sacrifice, God “exalted him to the highest place.” Through his obedience, Jesus became the full embodiment of God – in the flesh. That leads to the second point that Paul makes, Christ brings his followers to fullness!

           That does not mean that when you arise from the waters of baptism you are automatically mature. Far from it! But it does mean that through his Spirit living in you, Jesus is constantly cleansing and filling your life with his life. That is what it means to grow in Christ – to allow ourselves to decrease so that Christ can increase in us. The more we are able to do this, the more full we become. Understanding this can help you understand other statements in the Bible – like, “Do not quench the Sprit” andMay 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 5:19, 23-24) Spiritual growth is a process, but it can be aided by emptying ourselves and allowing Jesus to fill us.

            It seems counterintuitive that the way to deal with a nagging sense of emptiness is to remove more from your life, but that is the wisdom of Jesus – empty yourself and allow Jesus to fill you fully. I love the quote by C.S. Lewis: “The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.” This is what Jesus means by saying you must “lose your life to find it!” The faster you do this, the faster your situation improves!

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In Christ... Children of God

One of the dominant images for Christians is “children of God.” Jesus taught us the value of this relationship by his habit of referring to God as “Father.” Having grown up in a family with five children, I resonate with the image of the church as “God’s family” and of individual Christians as “children of God.” God, in his mercy, places us in families when we are born so that we can be loved and nurtured and learn how to grow up and become fully human. Yet most families are not marked by continual peace and uninterrupted tranquility! My siblings and I did not always get along well and sometimes it was difficult to feel the love! God wants more from his spiritual family…

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

            Christianity is designed to offer constant reminders that we are not to promote ourselves and place ourselves in opposition to others around us, rather we are to humble ourselves and consider others as better than ourselves. God wants his children to be loving and devoted to one another, not in competition and conflict with each other. Among God’s children, there is no place for spoiled brats! (Our loving Father will tell them to grow up, and will help them with that project!)

            Christians experience a great leveling at the cross of Christ, where all people stand as unworthy sinners asking for his prayer of forgiveness to cover us. We experience that leveling again in the waters of baptism where we claim, not our own righteousness or virtue, but access to the grace of Christ Jesus through our death, burial and resurrection with him. We are continually reminded of our equality as sisters and brothers in Christ each time we offer prayers of confession and repentance, receiving once again the grace of Jesus to cover our sins. God does not have favorite children!

            Of all people on the planet, Christians should be the most accepting and loving community because we have all been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and then clothed in his righteousness. You cannot walk away from the foot of the cross, where all are equal, and then continue to live with the barriers that Satan creates to keep people separated from one another and from our loving Father.

            One of Satan’s oldest tricks is “divide and conquer.” God calls us to an unfailing commitment to “love one another” because where love rules there is no one left out, no one left behind and no one who can honestly say that they are not welcomed. When Christians live together lovingly, everyone who sees it wants to be part of the family. When we don’t, we should not be surprised if people avoid our house like the plague.

            - Kenny Payne

Alive in Christ

             One of the most powerful metaphors for salvation and discipleship in the New Testament is resurrection. Paul tells us that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, but by his great mercy God made us alive with Christ. What a stark image – before we are saved we are dead! Once we are saved, we are resurrected!

            We are, of course, alive physically both before and after our salvation, but the metaphor is so powerful because it points to deep truths about how life-changing salvation is for us. Death was released into the world through the disobedience of Eve and Adam in the early days following creation. Death continues to increase in power and destruction as each person chooses disobedience over faithfulness. One way to look at life is that it is being overtaken by death. But God’s grace is life giving: when you receive new life in Jesus Christ everything about your life changes. Grace teaches you to love – to love God, to love others and to love life itself!  Listen to John – who was taught to love by Jesus: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14 NIV) Once love replaces fear in your life as the driving force, you are fully living the resurrection life!

            Once you begin living the resurrection life, you immediately notice that everything in the environment around you looks different. While there is a part of you that still sees all the same old people, places and stuff, the “God-alive” part of you sees with heaven’s view. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Paul tells us that we have been seated “in the heavenly realms with Christ.” Once you start looking at people, places and stuff through the eyes of God everything looks different. You see the potential, not the lack. You see the good planted into the entire creation by the Creator who constantly said “It is good!” Once you can see the good you can live in such a way to increase the good, both in yourself and in everyone and everything around you. That is why Jesus was so attractive to people – he “went around doing good” and it brought out the goodness in people around him. Those who are resurrected live like that!

            God is a loving and patient creator. He created us to be his partners in creation. When we choose disobedience and death, we are helping to destroy creation. When we choose resurrection and life, we are helping to restore creation. No one is neutral in the creative process – we are either helping or harming what God is doing in the world. Paul gives us this advice: Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:13 NIV) The choice before us all is crystal clear: death or life, fear or love, instruments of wickedness or instruments of righteousness. Choose wisely because your choice will have a great impact on yourself and all those around you. Choose life!
                                                                                                                                           - Kenny Payne

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In Christ... Grow Up

The growth that God intends for disciples of Jesus follows a predictable pattern: from infancy, to maturity, to “Christ formed in you.”  This growth is neither automatic nor accidental, rather it flows from several important decisions: the desire to remove harmful thoughts and practices from our lives, the commitment to nourish ourselves daily with a healthy spiritual diet, and the willingness to create time and space for God to live in our hearts.

            There are habits and sins that hinder all spiritual growth! We are repeatedly told to remove these things from our lives. Paul contrasts these harmful habits with the healthy habits that lead to maturity – he calls the harmful habits “works of the flesh” and the healthy habits “the fruit of the Spirit.” (Remember that for Paul the flesh and the Sprit are not battling dogs in our minds, but are two very different paths we can take through life). Peter has this to say about starting a life of spiritual growth: Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3 NIV) Notice that our desire for spiritual life and growth is a response to the truth that we “have tasted that the Lord is good.” That truth sets us on a remarkable journey to fill our lives with good, learning along the way to remove all that is not good from our lives.

            The process of spiritual growth, unlike physical growth, is not mostly a matter of the passing of time. Paul points this out in writing to the Christians in Corinth: Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV) While it is certainly appropriate for infants to drink milk, something is wrong with a teenager who does not eat solid food! Our growth comes from the passage of time spent practicing spiritual disciplines and walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

            Spiritual growth, like physical growth, is a very long journey that requires patience, perseverance, mentors, correction, and lots of encouragement. Surround yourself with people who are spiritually mature – allowing their practices to become your practices – and       you will notice growth in your life almost immediately.  That is why God places his newborn children in a spiritual family! Healthy individuals who are having Christ formed in them, create a healthy church family where others learn to walk with Jesus. Are you noticing the signs of maturity in your life? If not, it may to time to give more attention to growing up in Christ!

- Kenny Payne

Be Strong in the Lord and in His Mighty Power

            Every task, job or game has its own set of tools and rules – if you do not master these tools and rules you are unlikely to develop competency in the practice you have chosen. Trying to fight a fire with the tools of a baseball player would be a rather frustrating and dangerous task. Using the tools and rules of a doctor would not be very helpful if your desire is to plant a garden. Familiarity with and commitment to the “tools of the trade” is a necessary part of anything you want to achieve.

            This should be obvious, yet when it comes to spiritual growth too many people want to achieve the result without a corresponding commitment to the tools and practices of the task. No one is naturally good at spiritual growth, rather it is a learned task with a particular set of practices that help promote proficiency.

            Paul, while under house arrest, wrote the letter to the Ephesians, to encourage these Christians to grow up in Christ. As he wrote he was always in the presence of his Roman soldier guard. He took the armor of a legionnaire and used it to explain the tools and the rules of spiritual growth. Listen to his words: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes... Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-11, 14-17 NIV) Paul reminds these disciples of the six tools that will help them fulfill their mission to be salt and light in a dark world: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God!

            The image of a disciple fully dressed in the armor of God is a powerful and helpful image.

·         It reminds us that we are part of a large group of people all seeking to accomplish the same task – if there is only one soldier in the army, it is not an army!

·         It points out that we are not just passing time doing whatever interests us, rather we are committed to the will and mission of the commander.

·         It helps us focus on who we are committed to, and who our enemy is – “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood” – we are engaged in a spiritual battle. (This is important to remember when facing people who are fighting for the enemy – they are not the enemy, rather they are being used by the enemy!)

·         It calls us to be committed to taking a stand and refusing to go AWOL! Imagine how the world would change this week if all those who follow the Prince of Peace put on their armor, and loved the world like Jesus does!

Suit up and get in the fight alongside Jesus…

- Kenny Payne

Thursday, July 02, 2015

In Christ... Security

            Every person has felt the tension between what they want to be and what they are, between how they intend to behave and how they actually behave. We all know what it is to fail. Because of this the words of the apostle Paul easily resonate in our hearts: It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? (Romans 7:21-24 The Message)

            Have you ever wondered this? The question concerns security. If our security and salvation is found in our performance, then we all recognize that we are seriously insecure! Paul plainly tells us that the answer is not in our performance or will power, rather it is found in Christ Jesus. Listen to his words: The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 8:25 The Message)

He acted to set things right…  It is in Jesus Christ that we find our stability and security! Jesus calls us to make a fundamental decision about how we are going to live the life God has given us. Will we live according to the flesh – using human wisdom and insight to guide us and our feelings to make mid-course corrections, or will we live according to the Spirit of God – using divine wisdom to guide us and the continual forgiveness of ours sins by Jesus to keep us on the right path?

Too often the words of Paul concerning “the flesh” (sinful nature in the NIV) and “the Spirit” are taken to be two parts of the human being fighting for control. While we can certainly understand them in that way, Paul is actually referring to two very different paths through life (or worldviews). Paul is saying that we have to make a decision about who is in control of our lives.

The difference between a life controlled by the flesh and a life controlled by the Sprit cannot be more stark: it is the difference between death and life, between darkness and light, between addiction and freedom, between slave and beloved child.

Life in the Spirit means that we do not face condemnation, but are given the gift of holiness. Life in the Spirit means that we are not abandoned in the world, but are made children of God. Life in the Spirit means that no matter what happens to us in the world, God is working in and through it all to benefit his children. Life in the Spirit means that nothing can separate us for the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

There are two paths through life – the path of the flesh, and the way of the Spirit. They are not two roads that both lead to the same end! Choose wisely, choose life in the Spirit.

- Kenny Payne    

In Christ… Gloriously Fruitful!

Just hours before going to the cross, Jesus spoke to his disciples about their need to be intimately connected to him if they wanted to continue growing in their faith and being part of what God was doing in the world. Listen to these powerful words:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8 NIV)
            The disciples understood what it meant to follow Jesus physically, by simply going where ever he went and staying by his side. After his death, resurrection and ascension, they would have to learn a new way to follow Jesus, by being deeply rooted in his teaching and way of living.
            Jesus used the image of a vine and its branches to help them understand what it is like to stay connected to him. They were all familiar with vines and had probably even seen them being pruned and cleaned. Jesus pointed out that his students must maintain their connection to him as a branch must remain connected to the vine. Our source of life is Jesus Christ and if we become disconnected we are dead already, though we may not see it for some time. A branch that is cut off still looks alive, but its source of live is actually removed and it is dying. Jesus makes our need crystal clear – remain in me!
            The reason that Jesus calls disciples is to engage them in the work that he and the Father are doing in the world. It is the purpose for which we were all created, to be made in the image of God and doing the work of God. Jesus calls this state of God working with and through us “bearing fruit,” It is why vines are planted and tended so carefully – to produce their fruit. When we remain in Jesus and our lives become fruitful we are blessed and everyone around us can receive those blessings that flow from God through our lives.

            Imagine this: your life can be so intimately connected to Jesus that you become fruitful, a source of blessing to others, and God will receive glory because of you! This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Things I learned from my dad, things I learned from my kids...

Things I learned from my dad…

Ice cream can make help make a bad day good, and a good day even better.

If you put God first, everything else will find its place.

Music has value. (We disagreed if that included country music)!

Tell the truth, because it always ends better than a lie!

Be generous with your family and with others.

Always leave things better than you found them.

People will know you love them when you show them your love.

If you borrow something and it breaks, replace it with a new one.  (That is why my dad was reluctant to borrow things!)

Playing cards together is a great way to spend time.

It is usually difficult to do the right thing, but you will never have regrets when you do.

Few things are more enjoyable than a freshly cut lawn.

If you do it right the first time, you will be happier than having to do it again!

Things I learned from being a dad…

My dad made it look easier than it really is.

Becoming a good father is a sure path to becoming a good man.

From the moment you know you are going to be a father, your heart is never the same.

Nothing is more precious than your children. Few people can frustrate you like your children.

Time is your most precious currency; spend it on your family.

Your kids do not imitate only your good characteristics!

It is impossible to pray for your children too much.

The day will soon come when memories are all that is left of childhood. Better make them good ones!

You will make mistakes. Admitting and correcting them in the presence of your children will help them learn to deal with their own mistakes.

A frustrating incident that becomes a family joke, redeems the original frustration! (Rome!)

Your heavenly Father and your earthly father will help you when you do not know what to do as a dad.

If your house is full of love, fun, and food, your kids, and all their friends, will be blessed.

 - Kenny Payne

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Imitate Jesus… Imitate!

What does it look like to imitate Jesus? Some think that it looks impossible, since Jesus is the perfect Son of God, how could someone possibly imitate him? This line of reasoning can cause you to seek to claim the grace of Jesus without making any effort to actually obey his commands. Jesus himself warns against this line of thinking at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV) The difference between a life that can withstand the storms and one that is washed away by them is simply a willingness to practice the commands of Jesus!

Jesus was humble and compassionate in heart, fervent in prayer, loving and forgiving both friends and enemies, full of grace and truth, and overflowing with patience and joy. To know that these things are true about Jesus does not really improve our lives at all – we must allow Jesus to create these same commitments in our hearts. The path to spiritual maturity is achieved by creating space in our hearts and lives for Jesus to do his transformative work. When we imitate Jesus, we begin to make spiritual progress. 

We certainly know that all of our efforts to imitate Jesus will come up short of actually living a sinless and fully mature life, but that cannot hinder us from making the effort. Paul once said, “Imitate me as I imitate Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) He was not claiming to be perfect, for he lists his limitations in other places, but he was striving to live like Jesus and he was successful enough at it that he called others to follow him on that path!

The imitation of Jesus is not a short term project, rather it is the consuming life goal of all disciples of Christ. Eugene Peterson calls this “A long obedience in the same direction!” The writer of Hebrews tells us to “remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” It is that willingness to “consider the outcome” that makes the imitation of Jesus, not only a burning passion for disciples, but the only sensible way to live the life you are given. If you choose to imitate anyone but Jesus as you walk through life, in the end you will regret that decision.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”  The same is true for imitating Jesus. Much like a child mimicking a parent, imitation is difficult at first, but you will grow into it – Jesus promised to be present to help us! 

- Kenny Payne

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Imitate Jesus… Patience!

            Although Jesus did not say much about patience directly, his life is the greatest example of living prayerfully and patiently.

            Once Jesus taught his disciples about their need to “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). He reminded them that patience and persistence are the keys to getting what you need in life – if your patience and persistence are directed towards God. Because Jesus knew God to be a loving Father, he lived on the basis of “asking” for the things he needed. “Ask and you will receive” is the spiritual approach to life that Jesus modeled clearly. The process of asking and receiving both teaches and demands patience!

            Because life is full of both difficult circumstances and people, we have an unending need for patience. Yet patience is never produced “in the heat of the moment” (which, of course, is when we need it!) but comes from previous successes or failures at attempting patience. Those who want to learn from Jesus will pay attention to his way of showing patience and will notice how he is working to develop patience in our lives.

           In difficult circumstances, Jesus relied on prayer and his knowledge of God’s faithfulness to see him through. Sometimes God delivered Jesus, like the time he walked through the hostile crowd that intended to throw him off a cliff at the edge of Nazareth (Luke 4:29-30); but sometimes Jesus was not delivered from his difficult circumstances, like the time he went to the cross, despite praying for it to be removed from his life. In all difficult situations Jesus was patient and obedient to the will of his Father.

            With difficult people, Jesus was patient, hoping to promote repentance and growth in their lives. Jesus was patient with Simon Peter as he moved from impetuous to mature. Jesus was patient with John as he learned to trade “thunder” for love. Jesus was patient with Paul as he grew from persecutor of the church to apostle to the Gentiles. Jesus is patient with you as you are learning to walk with him. Jesus is always willing to patiently encourage people who are seeking to grow.   

            Paul once said, “Love is patient…” He learned this from the patience that Jesus showed to him. He also learned to imitate Jesus in showing patience. To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)  This is a deep spiritual truth – we desperately need Jesus and others to be patient with us as we grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we need to extend that same patience to others as they grow.

            Peter once said, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) This is the desire of God – that everyone has the time to grow to the point that they desire repentance and salvation. His strategy is that he will be patient with people, encouraging and prompting them to righteousness. Because he is patient with us, he calls us to, in turn, be patient with others. Patience leads to salvation, both for us and for others.

- Kenny Payne

Imitate Jesus… Joy

We tend to think of joy as circumstantial, but Jesus wants us to think of joy as consequential. If we are dependent on our circumstances being “right” to experience joy, then most of our lives will be spent without much joy! However, if we understand joy to be a consequence of our relationship with our loving Father and the life that he is calling us to live, then even in difficult situations we can be full of joy.

On the evening before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion, Jesus had an extended conversation with his disciples. One theme running through that conversation is the joy that Jesus is trying to create in the lives of his disciples. It is important to notice that this conversation about joy happened in the shadow of the cross in order to keep from falling into some “pie in the sky” sentimentality that considers joy as simply a strategy to avoid all the tragedy in the world. Jesus was known as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” He knew that joy was not a placebo against sorrow, but was a greater reality behind the sorrow and grief of the world.

Jesus rooted the joy that he wants to give his disciples in the powerful love of God the Father. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11) The love of God is the most secure place in the universe. No matter what happens to you in life, if you are in the love of the Father, all will be well. Because we are mortals who will be given immortality by God, even our deaths are not the final word on our life and joy. Jesus surrendered to death and conquered it through his resurrection. That promise of life eternal is grounded in the love of God.

Jesus also promised his disciples joy in the middle of their grief. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. (John 16:20-22 NIV) Their grief was centered on the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, Their world completely fell apart and they did not know what to do with themselves. But on Sunday morning there were stories of Jesus alive again, resurrected! Grief turned to joy and joy turned to mission.

It is hard to imagine, especially in the middle of tragedy, how God will restore and redeem this fallen creation, yet that is the promise He gives us that he is working to make all things new. Jesus called it the “restoration of all things.”  Paul reminds us, For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” God’s faithfulness is the source of our joy!

                                                - Kenny Payne