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