Acts 29

Acts 28.17-31

The book of Acts ends somewhat abruptly. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Paul or how his trial turned out. We know from church history that Paul was eventually martyred in Rome, but whether that happened shortly after the two years were up or some time later we don’t know for sure.

But Acts is not the story of Paul…or Peter…it’s the story of the Church and of what God accomplished through it in the early days and what He still is accomplishing through it today. And so it’s fitting that Luke leaves the story open-ended because the question is, what chapter will we write? What does Acts 29 look like for us? For Central? For you and me?

The book of Acts can be summed up in one word…Go! And as I think back through our time in Acts, here are ten key takeaways that fit the theme of Go!

1) The gospel is for everyone in every place at all times…Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Our job isn’t done until everyone has had a chance to respond. So you are to Go…

2) Jesus is either your King or He will be your Judge. There is no neutral ground. Everyone must decide for themselves whether or not they will choose to believe. No one can choose for you. There are no +1’s in the kingdom. So it’s imperative that you Go…

3) Suffering and persecution are a part of what it means to follow Jesus. We live in a world that is in open rebellion against its Creator, serving a counterfeit king. As followers of the true King, we will always be hated by those enslaved to the pretender. Nevertheless Go…

4) Expect opposition. See 3) above. The enemy is not going to give us a free pass to raid his kingdom. So boldly Go…

5) The good news is…the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. We need not fear or draw back in the face of opposition or persecution because our King has already won the day. Satan is a defeated foe. So you can confidently Go…

6) God does not often save us from the storm, but He does save us through the storm. He has not forgotten you or abandoned you. He is right there with you. So faithfully Go…

7) God is the Author of your story. He is telling the gospel through your life. He can be trusted. He is not done with you yet. He does what He says He will do. So obediently Go…

8) Our circumstances provide us with a platform to share our story…to share the gospel…that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Take advantage of it. Look beyond the circumstances to the opportunities God is giving you. So be aware as you Go…

9) God has given you a family to belong to…fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ. Another reason you are not alone. So you can joyfully Go…

10) God didn’t save you to go to heaven…He saved you on purpose with a purpose. To share your story. So Go…

Where do we go from here…what does your chapter of the story look like? What is your Acts 29? Go…

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Rome at Last

Acts 28.1-16

It’s been a long and grueling trip, but Paul has finally made it to Rome. And as he nears the end of his journey, he’s welcomed by the church in Rome.

All along the way, God has guided Paul’s journey. Though many times it seemed his life was in peril…from the Jews more than once, from the sea, from the soldiers, from the serpent…he was never in danger. God still had work for him to do. He had a divine appointment to keep in Rome. God said it, and Paul rightly believed that He would also bring it to pass. God can be trusted. He didn’t save Paul from the storm, but He saved him through the storm.

God was the Author of Paul’s story. He is also the Author of your story. I don’t know what your storm looks like today, but He does. And more than that, He’s right there with you in the hurricane-force winds and the crashing waves. And He wants to accomplish something in and through you in the midst of the storm. Believe it or not, the storm is an important part of the story He’s telling through you. That assumes of course that in the storm you are looking to Him. Running towards Him instead of away. Crying out to Him instead of crying out against Him.

We said it before, the furnace, i.e., the storm, can either destroy you or purify you. It can either turn you to ash, or turn you into something beautiful. What is it doing to you?

The storm is also a platform that God is providing for you to share your story…to share the gospel…to share the hope that you have. A hope that is no more prominently displayed than when you are in the storm. Because it shows a watching world that your faith is real.

We’ve talked a lot about circumstances and furnaces and storms and chains in the last several weeks…take some time right now to pray…to cry out to God…to ask Him to help you in the storm and through the storm and to use you through it to display the gospel in a unique way.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul’s Adventure at Sea

Acts 27

What a ride! Paul’s trip to Rome is proving to be anything but boring. And although things were touch and go there for a while, what God says He does and so Paul and his companions are brought safely through the storm.

The epic journey from Caesarea to Rome is a reminder of Jesus’ charge to the Apostles before He ascended…that they were to be His witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. All the families of the earth being blessed. The gospel is for everyone, everywhere, at all times. You have been entrusted with that same gospel…what are you doing with it? Who are you sharing it with? Who might you share it with this week?

I wonder what impact Paul’s faith had on Julius and the rest of the folks on board this Alexandrian ship. He demonstrated that his faith in God was well-founded when God rescued the entire crew from storm and sea. Not only can His Word be trusted for physical salvation, but no doubt Paul took the opportunity to share his story and his confidence that God could be trusted to rescue them also from sin and death. God keeps His Word. 

I’m struck by the fact that Paul was granted the folks traveling with him…almost as if he asked God to rescue them as well. Believe it or not you can have an impact on others even when you are in the storm. The question is, are you looking out for those around you or are you so focused on the storm that you miss the opportunity?

I want to end with a challenge…many of you are in the midst of the storm. Maybe you’ve lost your bearings and have all but given up hope of any kind of rescue. Maybe it seems like an eternity since you’ve seen calm waters and the light of day. Maybe in desperation you’ve tried all kinds of things to save yourself. Take courage. Don’t be afraid. God has not forgotten you, and He will never abandon you. He has promised to always be with you and to see you through. He doesn’t often save us from the storm, but He does save us through the storm.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul before Agrippa

Acts 26

Paul makes his last defense before he heads to Rome…a defense not so much of the charges against him as it is a defense of the gospel.

Once again we are faced with the question, what will we do with Jesus? Accept or reject. Follow or turn away. He is either King, or He will be Judge. We don’t know how most of the folks responded that day. We know that Festus thought the idea of a resurrection was crazy. Agrippa wasn’t ready. What about you?

Paul asked Agrippa, “Do you believe the Prophets?” Let me ask you the same question…do you believe the Prophets? Do you believe God’s Word? Our culture would say it’s antiquated, outdated, no longer relevant, even absurd…but what about you? It is either true or it’s not. You cannot pick and choose. It’s all or nothing. And if you believe the Bible’s true, what impact is it having on your life…the decisions you make, the conversations you have, the way you see and interact with the world around you? Maybe you’ve trusted Jesus as Savior, but have you made Him Lord? Does He call the shots…set the agenda..chart the course in your life? Or do you?

Once again we are reminded that our circumstances provide opportunities that we might not otherwise have. Are you taking advantage of them? Are you intentionally looking for ways to share your story? If not, what’s holding you back?

Let me challenge you this week…share your story with one person.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul before Festus

Acts 25

Paul makes his second defense before the Romans. Same charges. Still can’t be proven. And yet Paul’s circumstances give him access to some of the leading folks in the city.

Two years in prison. Falsely accused and unconvicted. Could easily make a person bitter. Could easily become a “why me” or “woe is me” scenario. But not so for Paul. It’s simply an opportunity to share his story with anyone and everyone he can. How is that possible? Paul knows that God is the Author of his story. And he knows that God still has work for him to do. He has a divine appointment in Rome.

Paul is in chains because of the hope of the resurrection…that’s what keeps him going. If he didn’t have that hope, why not live it up now. Eat, drink for tomorrow we die. But he did. And it’s the same hope we have. Jesus is not dead…He is alive! Our circumstances don’t define us…our hope does. Ricky mentioned last week that we are all in the furnace, and the flame can either destroy us or purify us. It can turn us to ash, or make us something beautiful. Focusing on our chains…on our circumstances…can often be the flame that destroys us. But looking beyond them to the opportunity and to what God is doing in and through them…is the flame that purifies us and makes us stronger.

Paul did his best…he strived…to live a blameless life. So Paul’s circumstances weren’t the result of bad choices he had made. They were trials that God allowed to test and purify Paul’s faith as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1.6-7. Some of us are in circumstances that, like Paul, are not the result of bad choices, and some of us are in circumstances where we are reaping the consequences of bad choices. Either way, our circumstances are providing some kind of platform…some opportunity that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Even in our mistakes and failures we can find opportunities to point folks to Jesus. God doesn’t call us to be perfect, but He does call us to be faithful.

Agrippa, Drusilla and Bernice…a family that had a front row seat to hear the gospel as Paul shared his story. Felix and Festus. And many others. Each had a choice to make…what do you do with Jesus? Is He a dead Man that Paul claims is alive? Or is He who He claimed to be…both God and Man, Savior and Redeemer, King and Judge. You too must answer that question. Heaven and hell hang in the balance.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul before Felix

Acts 24

Paul makes his first defense after the Jerusalem incident before the Roman authorities…before Governor Felix. The charges leveled against Paul are serious, but none can be proven. And yet, he remains in custody awaiting his divine appointment in Rome.

Despite his circumstances, Paul still has one job to do…share the gospel, to share his story. Despite your circumstances, you too have one job to do…to share your story. The story of how God has brought you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Beloved Son. The question is, do you see your circumstances as an opportunity to share your story, or are you so busy trying to escape them that you can think of nothing else? Maybe the difficult things you are going through are providing an opportunity you would have no other way…

Paul believed his faith in Jesus mattered. It mattered in the future because the promised kingdom awaits. But it also matters right now. Because how we live out our faith today, has an impact on our experience of the promised kingdom tomorrow. 

Does your faith cause a stir? I have heard it said this way, if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? You see, one day each of us will give an account of how we lived our lives (1 Corinthians 3.10-15). As believers, our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus, but we are stilled evaluated on how we lived out our faith…how we invested our mina…what we did with the gospel. We will still give an account of our life to the King. Where are you investing your resources? Who are you sharing your story with? Are you storing up treasures in heaven? Or are you pursuing after the things of this world? Only you can answer that.

If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, you too will give an account. But it’s a very different account. Since you didn’t trust in Jesus to forgive you of your sins, you will have to pick up the tab yourself. An eternity apart from God in a place called hell. A terribly frightening thought. Don’t go that route. The price has already been paid. Trust in Jesus today.

One last thing…If Paul lived in fear of what folks thought of him, where would we be today? What if we had the same courage that he had? How might our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, etc. be different?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Plot to Kill Paul

Acts 23.12-35

A plot to kill Paul is foiled, and under heavy Roman guard, he is brought safely to Caesarea to await trial before Governor Felix.

Jesus appeared to Paul after his confrontation with his opponents in the Jewish Council, encouraging him and reminding him that He still had work for him to do. Paul has an appointment to keep in Rome. His one job is to solemnly bear witness to Jesus, which Paul will do at every opportunity.

We too are called to bear witness to Jesus. To share our story…the story of how He has brought us from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son. To share the story of His grace and His mercy in our lives. Every opportunity that we get. Jerusalem and Rome. Workplace. School. Home. Neighborhood. Wherever He gives us a platform.

I love Paul’s confidence even in a pretty dark situation. It’s the same confidence we can have even in our own pretty dark situations. God is the Author our story. And He knows the end from the beginning. He is our Father who knows what we need before we even ask it. And He loves us. Oh, how He loves us. A love that He not only demonstrated so magnificently in sending His Son, but who also demonstrates it over and over and over again throughout our lives.

So let me challenge you this week…no matter how dark your circumstances, how great the storm, how desperate you may feel in the moment…fix your eyes on the Author of your story, and you too can have confidence that He will see you through.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul before the Council

Acts 23.1-11

In an attempt to clarify the reason Paul is wreaking such havoc among the Jews, the commander has him appear before the Council. There Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the real reason for the violent uproar.

Jesus came to bring peace. He came to rescue us from sin and death. He came to give us new life. Good news, right? And yet because of our sin…because of our selfishness or self-righteousness…because we want to be in charge…we want to decide good and evil, right and wrong…we want to define truth…because of all those things we don’t want Jesus to save us. Why do we need to be rescued? What’s wrong with the life we have? The divide over Jesus wasn’t just a first century phenomenon. It’s very real in our culture today just as it’s been between those who follow God and those reject Him, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent since the garden.

So where do you fall on that divide? Are you for Him or against Him? Is Jesus your King? If not, He will be your Judge. There is no middle ground…no neutral zone…no sidelines to watch from. You are in the game whether you want to be or not…whose side are you playing for? If you don’t yet know Jesus, why not make today the day that you make Him your King…that you give up the throne that He rightly deserves in your life.

If you do know Jesus, are you following Him? Would it be obvious to those who know you best? God doesn’t call us to be perfect, but He does call us to be obedient…to be faithful.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul’s Defense before the Jews

Acts 22

Paul defends himself before the Jewish people gathered together against him there in Jerusalem, hoping to convince them even now that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah. Sadly they reject both him and the good news that he brings to them.

Paul’s zeal for God before he came to believe in Jesus was extraordinary…it seems there was nothing to stop him from devouring the fledgling church (Acts 8.3). That is, until his encounter with Jesus. But his zeal for God before does not compare to his zeal for God after he had believed in Jesus. Now there is nothing that can stop him from sharing the gospel, even at the risk of his own life.

Jesus had changed everything for Paul, and He wants to change everything for you too. Before Jesus, Paul’s life was heading in a direction…a self-righteous, self-promoting, self-serving direction. He was on the highway to hell…though he thought for sure he was on the stairway to heaven. He was wrong, but he was convinced he was right. Maybe you are like a young Paul, or like many in the crowd that day. You say and do all the right things. Others would say you are a good person. If anyone could earn the right to heaven, that’s you. You think you are right. But like Paul, you are wrong. Dead wrong. No amount of saying or doing the right things matters. No one can earn the right to heaven. No one. Well, only One. His name is Jesus. He is the only One who has lived a perfect life. But He also died a sacrificial death on your behalf…He died for your sins so you wouldn’t have to. And He was raised the third day. He conquered sin and death so that by believing in Him you can have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Let me challenge you today. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, don’t wait. Make today the day. If you have trusted in Jesus, who are you going to share your story with this week?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Confrontation in Jerusalem

Acts 21.17-40

Paul’s return to Jerusalem starts with celebration but ends in chains. Although his teaching is called into question, he demonstrates by his actions the unity that he desires for the Church…for both Jewish and Gentile believers. Meanwhile unbelieving Jews from Ephesus falsely accuse him of defiling the temple.

It’s difficult not to react and even overreact when we are misunderstood. We often want to justify or redirect or defend or deny. And in the process we tend to complicate things and make them much worse. We repay evil for evil, insult for insult. We want to be understood without taking time to understand the other person. That’s why I love that Paul didn’t launch into a diatribe seeking to defend himself. He simply cleared up the misunderstanding by his actions. We can definitely learn something from Paul in this…he was no pushover. We’ve seen that over and over. He just genuinely loved his people.

And I think that love is evident in Paul’s willingness to participate in the Nazirite vow. Paul never stopped being Jewish, but he wasn’t a slave to it. I love what he says in 1 Corinthians 9.19-22, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” For Paul, the gospel was worth it. It was worth giving up his rights. It was worth being misunderstood. It was worth suffering for.

Sometimes our misunderstandings are with those who like us…friends or family including our church family, etc. And sometimes our misunderstandings are with those who don’t like us…maybe at all. The goal isn’t to prove that we are right and they are wrong, but peace and harmony, truth in love…unity and ultimately pointing them to Jesus.

Paul didn’t defend himself…neither did Jesus. Peter says it this way, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2.21-24).

Let me challenge you this week to look for the mutual win. To understand before being understood. To expect the best in others and maybe, just maybe, inspire the best in them. Even if you are misunderstood.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Going to Jerusalem

Acts 21.1-16

Paul finishes up his third and final missionary journey and reaches Jerusalem. Along the way he’s had the opportunity to meet with fellow believers…brothers and sisters…whom he’s been able to encourage, but who have also warned him of the impending danger to come.

Twice the Spirit has revealed to folks along Paul’s path that trouble awaits him in Jerusalem. For Paul it’s nothing new…he’s met with trouble at almost every turn. Suffering has been an expected part of his journey. And yet his well-meaning friends want to spare him from it.

Kind of reminds me of this interchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew. Right after Peter makes his historic proclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16.16), we are told…“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ 23But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matthew 16.21-23).

That must have been shocking for Peter to hear! Especially after getting it so right. I think too often we are like Peter…suffering doesn’t feel like winning. If Jesus already conquered sin and death at the cross, then why should we suffer? If we are on the winning side, what gives? We want the glory…but the suffering? No thank you. And yet because we live in a world which has declared open war against its Creator…a world enthralled by the great serpent of old who is the devil and Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of the sons of disobedience…we will suffer. There will always be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman…between those who reject God and those who follow Him.

Too often I think we are under the mistaken impression that God’s will for us is happiness as we define it. You might have heard it said, “God wants me to be happy. Therefore if I’m not happy then I’m not in God’s will.” Or “Suffering causes me pain, and surely God doesn’t want me to be in pain. Therefore suffering can’t be God’s will for me.” And so we make it about us and not about Him. We are the main character in the Story. That’s a dangerous place to be. Especially given that suffering is a prominent theme throughout the NT. Of course I’m talking about suffering for following Jesus and not suffering that comes as the predictable outcome…the consequence…of questionable choices (1 Peter 4).

Jesus’ definition of happiness…Matthew 5.3-12, “Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed (happy) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed (happy) are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed (happy) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed (happy) are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed (happy) are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed (happy) are you when people insult you and persecute you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So the question is, knowing that suffering is a part of the deal, will we resolve to follow Jesus no matter what? Let me be clear…we don’t choose suffering, we choose to follow Jesus. Suffering is just a predictable outcome of making that choice.

Let me challenge you this week to make that choice…maybe write it in a journal or on a Post-It note. Put it somewhere where you are going to see it. Set a reminder on your phone. “Today I’m going to follow Jesus…no matter what!”

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Goodbye Ephesus

Acts 20.17-38

Paul says goodbye to his friends at Ephesus. In his absence, he warns them of the need to be ever vigilant…to stay true to both the teaching and the living out of the Word.

Last words are lasting words, and Paul’s last words to the folks from Ephesus are a reminder of the spiritual battle that rages all around us, of the importance of truth, of our need to stand our ground. Unfortunately these Ephesian believers experienced the consequences of not heeding Paul’s warning. Within a decade or so, Paul writes to Timothy “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1.3-4).

When we lose sight of the spiritual battle around us, we become easy prey for the Enemy. When we let down our guard, we become more susceptible to his attacks, often not even recognizing them as attacks but as “bad luck” or “unfortunate circumstances”. We also become less dependent on God, which might mean less time in His Word and/or less time in prayer. Less time with other believers. On our own and vulnerable.

When we compromise on the truth of God’s Word because it’s uncomfortable or unpopular, it won’t be long until we begin to compromise in all areas of faith and doctrine. Soon truth becomes relative…what feels good must be right…and the difference between the world in here and the world out there becomes negligible.

That’s true for the church…but it’s also true for us as individuals. How intentional are you in following Jesus? Are you running the race or just wandering around in your spiritual walk? What impact is God’s Word having on your life? Is it causing you to think and act differently? Are there parts of Scripture that you refuse to believe because they don’t agree with your or the culture’s worldview?

My challenge for you this week…take one intentional step in your Christian walk by… Praying. Reading the Word. Spending time with fellow believers. Sharing your story. Helping/Serving someone else. Giving generously to someone in need. Inviting someone to come along with you on the discipleship journey.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

Acts 20.1-16

As Paul finishes up his third missionary journey, the kingdom impact he’s had on the Mediterranean World is evidenced by the folks who accompany him on his way.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered or what do you want to be remembered for? My dad wanted to leave behind a family business for generations to come…or at least for his kids. And while his business was somewhat successful, the getting the kids-turned-adults involved part never really worked out.

Maybe the legacy you want to leave isn’t in the marketplace…maybe you don’t have a family business to pass on. Maybe it’s a significant contribution to your field of expertise. Maybe it’s your kids and your grandkids. Unfortunately, all of those legacies have one thing in common. They all fade with time. But there is a legacy that you can leave that will never fade. It’s the kingdom impact you have on another person. Sharing your story and then bringing them along as you follow Jesus…you may have heard it called discipleship. Bringing someone one step closer to Jesus.

Paul never did ministry alone, and he continually invested in the lives of those he was bringing along. So who are your traveling buddies? Who are you following Jesus with? And who are you bringing along? Who are you building into? Who are you teaching about the faith? Who are you challenging to bring another along? Who are you passing the baton to?

Let me challenge you with this this week…if you are not involved in a small group or community group of some kind, get involved. If you are not investing time bringing someone else along in the faith, pray about who that might be and then be intentional about building into their life.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

A Riot at Ephesus

Acts 19.21-41

Paul prepares to leave Ephesus to return to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. But before he can leave, a riot breaks out in the city. The gospel is transforming lives, which is proving to have an adverse effect on the local economy.

The gospel is good news. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a new heart and God’s Spirit living within them. They pass from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…they are not who they used to be. Jesus changes everything!

For the folks at Ephesus, that meant confessing their sins and making a clean break with their past…no more magic, but also no more Artemis worship. And it made an impact on their city. The impact can be seen in two different ways. First there’s the number of folks who believe, then there’s the radical change in their behavior. One or two or a handful whose behavior is radically changed will have an impact, but probably not enough to cause a riot. And a great number of folks whose behavior changes a little will have an impact, but again probably not enough to cause a riot. But when you combine those two…a large number of people who are radically changed…then you have the recipe for a riot.

So I wonder what kind of impact we are having on our community, and is it the impact we want to have…are we causing a stir by the way we follow Jesus? Are we disrupting the economy of those who are peddlers of sin and bad choices? The Ephesian Christians caused a stir, not by picketing outside Demetrius’ shop and not by running a smear campaign against Artemis. How did they cause a stir? By living a different kind of life. A noticeably different kind of life. A life marked by the gospel and transformed by God’s grace. And if we want to make an impact on our community for good, that’s where it starts…by living lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and sharing the hope that we have with those around us who so desperately need it. So let me challenge you this week…If one or two of us live lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and share the hope that we have with others, we’ll have an impact…but if a thousand of us do it, we’ll have a riot. Let’s start a riot!

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul at Ephesus

Acts 19.1-20

Paul returns to Ephesus where he will set up his base of operations for this his third and final missionary journey. Nothing like pitching your tent outside the Enemy’s stronghold as you make your assault on the forces of darkness.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is powerful both in word and in deed. Miracles abound…miracles of healing and casting out demons. Miracles that show the power of God over the demonic realm. The gates of hell cannot prevail against Jesus’ Church. In the battle between light and darkness, miracles and magic…it is the name of Jesus that is magnified. He has already won the victory.

As that truth dawned on these Ephesian believers, they were convicted of their sin…of the past they were still holding on to…and they did something about it. They made a clean break. So I want to challenge you with something this week…what is it that you need to confess and make a clean break from? What sin are you holding on to? For them the clean break meant destroying the objects that had caused them to stumble. What might that look like for you?

Take the next few minutes to confess whatever sin it is that you are holding on to and to turn it over to Jesus and ask Him what a clean break looks like for you. And then this week take the next step…whatever that might be…follow through and make a clean break.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Aquila and Priscilla

Acts 18.18-28

Paul rounds out his second missionary journey and begins his third with renewed vigor. Having left Aquila and Priscilla behind in Ephesus, Paul is anxious to return there after visiting Jerusalem, Antioch and the churches he had planted along the way. Meanwhile Aquila and Priscilla are able to encourage and equip Apollos, a man who will prove to be a great asset to the Church and the preaching of the gospel.

While it would be easy to gloss over much of what happens in this story, there are subtle details that we might miss…reminders that this is the story that God is telling. The story of His Church. Paul takes Aquila and Priscilla with him from Corinth. He drops them off in Ephesus as he heads back East. Meanwhile a guy named Apollos shows up one Sabbath at the synagogue where Aquila and Priscilla are worshiping. They are able to instruct him and encourage him. And because of their connections to the church in Corinth, they are able to pave the way for him to begin a powerful ministry there. It’s no accident. God’s fingerprints are all over this story. Just as His fingerprints are all over your story.

The goal of marriage is this thing called becoming one and pursuing the purpose for which God created and called and saved you. Pursuing holiness rather than happiness…knowing that holiness, or living life the way God intended, brings true and lasting happiness.

Aquila and Priscilla are an example of a couple who got it, the only example in the NT to my recollection…who understood that marriage really is ministry. That when we put Jesus at the center of our marriage…when He’s our greatest pleasure and our highest good…then it becomes more natural for us to want to do the things that please Him. We’re on the hunt for opportunities to encourage and build up and strengthen and serve and help and love on others. Of course that’s very countercultural.

You see the norm is represented by another famous, or maybe better infamous, couple in the book of Acts…Ananias and Sapphira. Remember in Acts 5, the early church in Jerusalem is experiencing tremendous growth and folks are looking out for others, selling stuff and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to those in need. Ananias and Sapphira hatch a plan…they like the attention they’ll get by participating, but they don’t really want to part with their stuff, so they sell some property and bring only a portion of the money to the Apostles. Now bringing only a portion of the proceeds wouldn’t have been wrong, except that they somehow gave the impression that they brought the full amount of the sale. Greed and pride will get you every time. For them it literally cost them their lives. Unfortunately for many couples…even Christian couples…it’s more about the appearance of doing good than the actual practice of good.

Happiness vs. Holiness…they may seem antithetical, but God’s designed it so that we realize our greatest happiness…our greatest fulfillment in life, in our marriages, in our work or whatever…when we realize it in Him, when we put Him at the center. Just like Aquila and Priscilla.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul at Corinth

Acts 18.1-17

Paul’s visit to Corinth proves to be an important strategic move for the Church. Paul himself receives a word of encouragement from the Lord to press on despite ministry fatigue, and the Church receives a word of confirmation from the Roman authorities of its legitimacy despite the objections of the Jewish antagonists.

Following Jesus is hard work at times. Opposition and obstacles are often in the way. But the Lord is with us, and He will see us through. He still has work for us to do…lots of folks who need to hear about Jesus. Prisoners who need to be set free. Now’s not the time to shrink back. Now’s the time to forge ahead…to storm the gates…and proclaim our Resurrected King.

Like Paul, it’s our job to share the gospel…good news for those who receive it, but a warning of impending judgment for those who reject it. Jesus is either our King, or He will be our Judge. No middle ground. You are either in or out, for or against, saved or lost.

And also like Paul, we all need encouragement. Who can you encourage this week? Maybe someone who is having a rough go of it. Maybe someone who has walked away from the faith for any number of reasons. Maybe someone who needs to take a step of faith. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever the situation…encourage them in the Lord this week.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul at Athens

Acts 17.16-34

Paul’s trip to Athens is not the vacation he may have hoped for. Disturbed by the rampant idolatry he finds in the city, Paul can’t help but confront the spiritual bankruptcy of the folks who are there. With a well-reasoned argument, Paul starts with God as the Creator and Sustainer of all that He has made. He is a God who is actively involved in the world and who has made us in His image to worship Him. Some will. For those who don’t, He has appointed a Judge who will judge the world in righteousness.

Is our culture that much different than ancient Athens? Learning, culture, the arts, sports… Maybe we don’t have temples and idols that litter the landscape, but that doesn’t mean we don’t worship false gods nonetheless. Gods of affluence and entitlement, of beauty and popularity, of importance and greed, of you fill-in-the-blank. It’s anything we love more than God, anything we worship in place of God, anything we value above God. What, if anything, is that for you?

I wonder about the folks from the synagogue. Normally Luke gives us a report on their response to the gospel, but not this time…why? The only two people he mentions as believing the gospel seem to be from the Areopagus. So what about the others? Why was Paul’s message so strange and new? Maybe they were no different than the rest of the Athenians. Maybe the culture was having a greater impact on them than they were having on the culture. Can the same be said about us? About you?

Paul is provoked by what he sees. Clearly he shares God’s anger about the things around him. But he also shares God’s love for the folks who are trapped by their own sin. Their objects of worship were evidence that they were seeking God, but their ignorance of Him was leading them in the wrong direction. Are you provoked by the idolatry you see around you? If so, how are you responding? Are you lashing out at it or reaching out to those trapped by it?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living for God

1 Peter 5

It’s not lost on me that a sermon series called This Is Living with a strong emphasis on suffering and submission to authority may seem a bit ironic. Definitely not what the world would define as living. But maybe that’s the point.

The world defines living as more…more money, more stuff, more followers, more fame, more, more, more. The more I have, the more I matter. And the more I matter, the more you have to listen/follow/acknowledge/do what I say. Living is about me and the kingdom I’m building right now. No matter how temporary. No matter the consequence. Suffering? Yeah, that’s a part of life…but something to be avoided at all costs. I do what I want, when I want, how I want, with whomever I want. Independent thinking and challenging authority are all part of the gig. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14.12).

Jesus told this parable in Luke 12, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.16-21).

Living according to this world’s standards only brings dissatisfaction, jealousy, anger, bitterness, greed, pride…and the list goes on and on. It fails to provide true purpose and meaning…anything that is lasting. The best you get are brief glimpses, distorted images, broken promises of life. And when this fleeting life is over…an eternity of regret.

True living is pursuing Jesus no matter what. We have been purchased for a price…His own shed blood. Redeemed from sin and death to be a people. To be His people. To proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. True living is found in trusting the One who created and called and saved us. Believing not only that He loves us, but that He is also working for our good. Our hope is not in the authorities God has placed over us. Our trust is not in them. It’s in our great God. If He is for us, who can stand against us?

When we trust God fully, we can submit humbly to those in authority over us. When we trust God fully, we can do the right thing even when it results in suffering. When we trust God fully, we need not fear the enemy. We can stand firm knowing that we have a living hope, an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life.

So let us trust God, pursue peace and do the right thing, no matter what. Let us proclaim His excellencies through lives well lived and by telling our stories to a world desperate for hope.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living with Your Family

1 Peter 3

Submitting to those God has placed in authority over us is never easy, but when we do so, we show our trust is in God to take care of us and see us through, come what may. In all our relationships we are to do good, and seek the good of those around us. Our good behavior will influence some to trust in Jesus. But not all. So when suffering comes from doing right, we need not fear but can rejoice because we are following the example of Jesus.

Noah obeyed God and did the right thing even though the world around him was clearly not. He showed his trust in God by continuing to do the right thing even while suffering for it. And he and his family were saved because of his faith.

Once again we see a strong call to be in or out…you are either for or against Jesus. He’s already paid the penalty for our sin so that we can have a relationship with God. Why not trust in Him today?

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living Out Your Faith

1 Peter 4

The way of following Jesus is difficult and treacherous, full of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows…definitely not the easiest path through life. You’ve declared your allegiance to the true King and have become a traitor to this world. Those who once called you friend have become bitter foes. Your world has been turned upside down.

And yet it’s the best decision you could have ever made. Because now there is a real sense of purpose and meaning to your life, a direction. And you are experiencing joy you couldn’t have imagined and a peace that just doesn’t make sense, given your circumstances. You are a citizen of the kingdom with an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life. Suffering will come…but it comes to everyone…whether that suffering comes because of your faith or because you live on this planet, do right and trust God to see you through.

But what if that’s not your experience? First question is, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you… If you have trusted in Jesus, have you turned fully to Him, or are you still hanging on to your old life? Many of us miss out on the fullness of life that Jesus calls us to and saved us for because we give a nod to Him but continue to pursue life the way we want to live it. If that’s you, let me invite you to make a clean break with your old way of life today…your selfish and self-centered way of living life…and turn fully to Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living With a New Identity

1 Peter 2

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new identity. We are a new, living temple…and we join the ranks of His people along with His saints of old. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. How amazing is that! That should cause us to want to show and tell others about Him. Show through a life lived well, and tell what great things He has done for us in saving us.

Jesus will mean either honor or ruin for you. He will either give you life or condemn you to death. There is no Switzerland when it comes to Jesus. No neutral zone. No sidelines. You are either for or against Him. You are either trusting in Him or rejecting Him. He will either be your King or your Judge. Why not make Him your King today? Life is short. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Your eternal destiny is at stake.

And for those of you who have trusted in Him, does the living of your life reflect that? Are you living a life above reproach or are you giving your opponents reason to question the sincerity of your faith? Are you being a good citizen…employee…son/daughter…student…player…etc? Are you trusting God in the midst of trying circumstances, or just trying to get even?

Suffering is a given in life…part of the fallen world we live in. The way we approach suffering, whatever flavor it may be…persecution, sickness, death, wayward children, a broken relationship, etc…is testimony to a watching world whether or not our faith is real and whether or not it really matters. So do what’s right and choose to trust God no matter the circumstances.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living Like Jesus

1 Peter 1

Jesus changes everything! Because of His death and resurrection we have a living hope…a hope that’s alive because Jesus is alive and a hope that continues to grow and mature as we follow Him. We need not live a life of fear, though the world around us is shaking, we can have confidence knowing that the temporary things may fade, but the kingdom remains.

If you have trusted in Jesus, He has rescued you from sin and death and has given you new life. This world is no longer your home. You have a new address…the kingdom where you have an inheritance awaiting you. You are protected by God’s power in this life…doesn’t mean that you won’t have physical pain or sorrow or even death…but it does mean the eternal life you have cannot be taken away. And even the trials that come are meant to strengthen your faith and remove everything that keeps you from fully trusting God.

And because we have this living hope and unshakable salvation, we are freed up to love. To love the way God loves. To love full on. Nothing held back. A love that shares the same message of hope…the gospel…with others.

So let us live as sojourners in this world. Let us live courageous and generous lives, preoccupied with the kingdom. Let us make an impact in the lives of those around us for Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul in Thessalonica and Berea

Acts 17.1-15

Paul and his companions share the gospel in the synagogues of both Thessalonica and Berea with very different results. In Thessalonica, Paul, using the Scriptures, reasons, explains and presents evidence that the Christ must die and be raised again. And he shows how Jesus, having been crucified and raised on the third day, fulfills all that the OT said about Him. Some Jews believe, but most reject the gospel. In Berea, the Jews themselves use the Scriptures to test what Paul’s saying and, confirming the truth of his teaching, many believe.

One group had stopped asking the “why” questions. They saw the world through their own pre-conceived ideas and were unwilling to examine the evidence for themselves. They were pre-occupied with their own kingdoms with no room for a rival King.

The other group was still asking “why”. They were willing to be challenged, but also willing to challenge in return. They were hungry for the truth…I think we could say pre-occupied with the kingdom…so that when they hear about Jesus they gladly make Him their King.

Which one of those two groups most resembles you? Is “eagerness” a good description of the way you approach the Word? Do you examine the Scriptures daily, aligning your thoughts with what the Bible says…your beliefs, your values? If not, why not start today?

One last thing…the gospel is good news. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that especially in a world that vilifies Christians at every turn. Jesus has come to save the day. He’s come to right the wrongs. He’s come to set the captives free. But sadly, not every captive wants to be free. Some are deluded into thinking that the life that they are living is really living despite the pain and sorrow and carnage of bad choices and broken relationships and guilt and regret and everything else. And so while we share a message of life, we shouldn’t be surprised that our enemy will attempt to thwart our forays into his kingdom. But like Paul, it shouldn’t stop us. When one door closes, look for the next.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul in Philippi

Acts 16.11-40

Paul and his companions step off the boat from Troas onto the shores of Macedonia, of what is modern day Europe, a new frontier to carry out the same mission that Jesus gave to His Apostles way back in Acts 1…to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In Philippi, the first of many captives to come are captured by the gospel…they are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the beloved Son.

A wealthy business woman (Lydia), a demon-possessed slave girl, and a jailer…a reminder that the gospel is for everyone. No one is too far gone to be saved, no one so lost that they can’t be found, no one so dead that they can’t be made alive. I don’t know about you, but that’s good news for me.

Have you come to the place where you’re ready to ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” It’s the most important question of your life. The answer is simple…believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. And not only will He save you, but He wants to use you to reach your household…family, friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, etc.

If you have trusted in Jesus for eternal life, are you trusting Him in the day-to-day of life? Are you able to pray and sing praises even in the worst of circumstances, knowing that you are not alone and that God is working through those circumstances to accomplish things that may only become clear when you look back at them down the road? Make no mistake about it. An unbelieving world is watching to see if we really believe what we say we believe. The storms of life…trying times and unfair treatment…have a way of revealing that. I’m reminded of Joseph’s words to his brothers… “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result…” (Genesis 50.20). That’s a perspective that only comes through time spent with the Lord, cultivating your relationship with Him in prayer and in His Word and with His people.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Acts 16.1-10

Paul and Silas head out on the second missionary journey. Along the way they pick up Timothy, and, following the guidance of the Spirit, end up in Troas on their way to Macedonia.

Now we are not told how Paul got the “no” from the Spirit on two separate occasions on their journey. And it brings up an interesting question that’s often asked…“how do I know what God’s will is for me?” I think we often treat God’s will like a code to be cracked. If we can just figure out the secret handshake or discover the hidden message kept in some mysterious place then we will know what God wants us to do. We’ll discover the “National Treasure” that is His will. But what if it’s easier than that? You see I believe that God, as a good Father, wants us to know what it is He would have us do. Like any parent wants for their children. But like children we often fail to listen. It’s been said, and I would tend to agree that 90% of what God wants you to do can be found…in His Word, the Bible. The Bible is the Codebook, if you will, to life. In It, God gives us instruction on how we are to live…how we are to conduct ourselves, how we are to respond, what we are to do. And if you are spending time daily in God’s Word, you will learn to hear His voice, and not only will you discover the 90%, but the 10% also becomes more and more clear.

But not only should you spend time in God’s Word, you should also be spending time in prayer. If we are spending time with God in prayer daily, listening as well as talking, then we have this promise from Proverbs 3.5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” The 10% becomes clear when we’re spending time with the Lord.

Paul was preoccupied with the kingdom. He was undistracted in His pursuit of Jesus. When we spend time in God’s Word and spend time in prayer with Him, we too can become less focused on ourselves and more preoccupied with the kingdom. But we have to be intentional. And Paul wasn’t alone in his journey…he had a group of buddies with him who were also preoccupied with the kingdom. That’s important. Do you have a group of believers that you’re pursuing Jesus with? A community or small group?

I’m also struck by the fact that Paul’s journey was anything but linear. Sometimes we think the Christian life is a series of moves from one successive step to the next in a very predictable pattern, but often it’s way more exciting than that. Think rollercoaster rather than escalator. And although it may not have made sense to Paul in the moment he was willing to ride the rollercoaster…he was willing to wait when God said, “Wait” and go when God said, “Go”. Paul wasn’t following his own agenda, but that of his Master. If we are honest, I think often we let our agenda get in the way of God’s agenda even when we are doing things “for Him”. We have to remember that His ways are not always our ways…and it’s His ways that matter.

One last thing…Paul didn’t give up. When God closed door number and door number two, Paul kept going until God opened door number three. How often do we give up before we get to door number three and miss the opportunity that God has for us there? Again time in the Word, time in prayer and time with other believers and a passion to share the gospel with those who have a front row seat to our lives will help us persevere to door number three.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Jerusalem Outbrief

Acts 15.22-41

The church in Antioch anxiously awaits the decision of the Jerusalem Council regarding the question of whether the Gentiles had to first become Jews before becoming Christians. The Council is unified in its decision…a decision that they discerned the Holy Spirit leading them to. Salvation is by faith alone. For both Jews and Gentiles. Both must believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and new life in Him.

We get in trouble when we expect unbelievers to act like believers before they can be believers. Or when we want them to clean up their act before they come to church. Adding a list of do’s or do not’s to faith is legalism. Until a person has trusted in Jesus, the do’s and do not’s have absolutely no impact on their lives. Dead is dead. It is only faith in Jesus that saves…only faith in Him that gives life.

We also get in trouble when we impose our version of Christianity on other believers. When we expect their walk with Jesus will look exactly like ours. No doubt the Bible has a lot to say about the things we should do and the things we shouldn’t do as believers. But the doing or not doing of those things doesn’t save us, and in and of themselves those things cannot make us more like Jesus. Only the Spirit can do that…only He can transform us to live and love like Jesus. But we do or don’t do out of obedience to Him…because we love Him…not because we intend to get something selfish out of it.

One last thing, and it’s a big thing. We are to turn from vain things to the living God because those vain things only bring death. But I think sometimes we don’t really want to turn from those vain things. We want to hold on to them. Even though Jesus has freed us from them, we keep running back to them and we continue to drag them along because we foolishly think they will somehow give us life. Like the Israelites, we keep wanting to run back to Egypt. And so we may continue in a sexually immoral relationship because we think that’s life. And so we continue our shady business dealings because we think the bank it generates gives us life. And so we continue to live our lives like the world revolves around us…promoting ourselves…because we think it somehow gives us life. But those things don’t bring true life. Only the illusion of life. And once it’s gone, then we can see them for what they really are…vain idols that only bring death.

What is it you need to turn from today, so that you can turn to Jesus? What do you need to let go of, so that you can lay hold of life?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Jerusalem Council

Acts 15.1-21

A question over entrance requirements for the kingdom is threatening the unity of the early church. Should the Gentiles be required to become Jews before becoming Christians? At stake is the very gospel itself. Is salvation by faith in Jesus alone or not?

The council renders an overwhelming verdict in the affirmative…salvation is by faith in Jesus alone according to God’s grace. That’s awesome news! Every obstacle has been removed so that you can come to Jesus by faith, just as you are. If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, what’s stopping you?

I’ve got to believe that the hearts of these Pharisaic Christians were in the right place. They didn’t necessarily want to keep folks out, they just wanted to control how they came in. I think sometimes we do the same thing. Maybe not consciously, but we kind of expect that folks who follow Jesus will look like us…they’ll act like us, they’ll have the same convictions as us…and when they don’t we begin to question whether or not they are really one of us.

There is a fine line between conviction and legalism. There are things that the Bible is clear about, and walking in those things is part of following Jesus. I’m not talking about those things. But there are things that the Bible isn’t necessarily clear on…and on those things through our own reading of Scripture and time with the Lord we develop convictions. Those are more personal…our own rules of engagement. When we take our convictions…not talking about what the Bible says, but our convictions…and inflict those on others we’ve crossed the line into legalism. Legalism is measuring my righteousness against yours…comparing how good I am to how bad you are. And it’s easy to fall into. We say salvation is by faith alone, but we too can hang expectations on that, can’t we? What are those expectations for you, and how are they keeping you from welcoming others into the faith? Do they need to act, dress, talk or behave a certain way? If that’s you, it’s time to let go of those expectations.

No doubt Jesus changes everything. Like Paul says, when we choose Jesus we are turning from vain things to follow the living God. But sometimes I think we hang on to those vain things. I think we drag them along with us as we half-heartedly, if that, turn in His direction. What are the vain things you are holding on to? What idols…what sins…what of your past are you clinging to, unwilling to let go of? You will not experience the life that Jesus saved you for until you let go of them. If that’s you, I want to invite you to let go of those things, and turn completely to Him today.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

First Missionary Journey Wrap-up

Acts 14.20b-28

Paul and Barnabas finish up a successful trip to Derbe and then make the return trek back through the cities they had previously visited to strengthen, encourage, warn and equip the churches planted there, appointing elders to provide ongoing spiritual leadership. Returning to Syrian Antioch, they out brief the church with the exciting news of God’s work among the Gentiles.

The churches that Paul and Barnabas planted were all deep in enemy territory. They had crashed the gates of hell and rescued many captives. And while those captives had been freed and while they had changed their allegiance and served a new King, they were still living their day-to-day lives in cities lying within the serpent’s dominion…in a culture hell-bent on destroying them. No wonder Paul warns them about tribulations to come…no wonder he warns them about persecution and suffering. The more they look like Jesus, the more the enemy will pursue them. Darkness hates the light…the brighter the light, the more vehemently the attempt to extinguish it. But they need not fear. Jesus has already won the day! Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning! Suffering may come, but it’s just the prelude to glory.

We like the glory part. We like the kingdom part. But if we’re honest, we’re not really down for the suffering part. In fact, often we will do whatever we can to avoid it. We want to follow Jesus without cost or consequence. What we really want is the American Dream with a Christian veneer, and suffering doesn’t jive with that. Some of us may even wonder if we’re doing the right thing as a Christian if and when we face trials because of it. We’ve forgotten that this world is not our home. And yet the constant testimony of Jesus and the rest of the NT is that suffering is a fundamental part of the Christian life.

The good news is…we are never alone in suffering for Jesus. Somehow Paul says that we can experience the perfect peace of God in the midst of chaos, joy in the midst of pain, hope in the deepest darkness. We don’t have to give up or give in because Jesus has already won the day. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He will see us through until we see Him again. And we have a heavenly Father who delights in us and desires our good…who loves us so completely that we will spend an eternity trying to comprehend His amazing love for us.

For some of us the idea of suffering for our faith aka persecution may be a foreign concept. Everyone who walks this planet has at some time or will at some time suffer. Guaranteed. That’s part of living this side of the garden where my sin and your sin and our sin and the brokenness of this world collide in some pretty nasty ways to create all of kinds of chaos in our lives. I’m not talking about that kind of suffering. I’m talking about the kind of suffering that comes because you are a Christian. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when your light shines in a dark place. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when you dare to share your story…to share the gospel with someone else. That’s something very different.

If suffering for your faith is a foreign concept, maybe you have a “Who is Jesus?” problem. Maybe you are looking for a Jesus who meets your expectations. A Jesus who will rescue you from your sins, but not One who will change you too much. But Jesus didn’t come just make your life easier or more comfortable…He came to radically transform you, to make you into a new creation. To unleash you against the armies of hell. He bids you to come and die so that you may truly live.

Maybe today is the day that you need to recommit to following Jesus, no matter what the cost, remembering that suffering comes before glory.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Acceptance and Opposition: Lystra

Acts 14.8-20a

Paul’s visit to the little town of Lystra didn’t go quite the way he had planned. The healing of a lame man which should have opened a door for the gospel and pointed folks to Jesus instead causes them to want to worship Paul and Barnabas. And just when that seems to be under control, a group of zealous, unbelieving Jews shows up to put an end to Paul once and for all.

I love the “success” stories that we’ve seen so far in the book of Acts…where thousands of folks come to faith in Jerusalem and in Samaria, the conversion of Cornelius and also of Saul/Paul, Peter’s rescue from the clutches of Herod and Paul’s triumph over the false prophet Bar-Jesus, the church in Antioch and the Gentiles who have come to faith along the way.

The successes are great…Jesus had lots of those too. But there was also opposition and persecution. Just as we said last week…while we may wish it were otherwise, that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject.

There will always be opposition to the gospel. We have a real enemy who doesn’t like us storming his gates, and he will do anything and everything in his power to thwart our attempts to rescue folks held captive under his dominion. Sometimes folks will misinterpret and misunderstand us, and sometimes they will violently oppose us. Either way, let’s not give up.

Ours is a society that is quickly losing its biblical moorings…no longer can we assume that folks have even a rudimentary knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Unfortunately that’s not just out there…many folks within the church are far from having a biblical worldview. Most are more influenced by the anti-Christian, anti-God culture that surrounds us than they are by God’s Word. We may be too sophisticated to worship Zeus and Hermes, but we do worship our idols nonetheless…

It makes sharing our faith challenging. It makes living a Christian life challenging. There are lots of obstacles in the way, but it shouldn’t stop us. It shouldn’t cause us to give up and go home. Instead it should cause us to rely more fully on the Spirit, to cling more desperately to Jesus. To get up and press on…to get back in the game.

If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, make today the day. Make today the day you turn from vain and worthless things to the living God who not only created the heavens and the earth, but who also made you as well. Who loves you and wants to adopt you into His family. The God who loved you so much that He sent His one and only Son Jesus to die a sacrificial death for you so that by believing in Him your sins could be forgiven, and who raised Him the third day so that you too might have eternal life.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Acceptance and Opposition: Iconium

Acts 14.1-7

Paul and Barnabas face both acceptance and opposition in the ancient city of Iconium. Initially the response is super positive…a large number of both Jews and Greeks believe. But then opposition comes from those who refuse to believe. The sad thing is, those refusing to believe do so because they have rejected their Messiah. What should have been the greatest news ever received with the greatest excitement ever is instead met with hostility and extreme prejudice.

And while we may wish it were otherwise…that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject. Didn’t Jesus say something about that…“the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it…the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7.13-14).

Paul could have easily given up on his mission. Think about his experience up to this point…run out of both Damascus and Jerusalem and threatened with death, benched for awhile (about eight years) in Tarsus, has a spiritual showdown with a false prophet named Bar-Jesus, persecuted and driven out of Pisidian Antioch, and now once again on the run coming out of Iconium. Of course there were successes along the way as well…a great many people brought into the kingdom through his teaching of the gospel. Through it all, Paul remains faithful to his calling…he continues to speak out boldly, unashamed of Jesus. In fact, later on he will say, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20.24).

We too will face opposition and suffering when we choose to follow Jesus and when we share the gospel…why? Because some accept, but most will reject. Knowing that is a part of the gig, let us not shrink back, but let us also be faithful to our calling…to be witnesses, to share our story. Let us do so boldly, unashamed of Jesus…so that we too can finish the course and make a kingdom impact.

Your impact list is a great place to start. Your impact list is a good way to think about the folks who have a front row seat to your life…family, friends, co-workers/classmates, teammates, etc. Pick one and pray for the opportunity to share your story with them. Pray that you would be bold. Pray that you would be courageous. Pray that you would be steadfast…endure and be faithful while you have opportunity. Pray that God will use you to impact their life for the kingdom, and that they in turn will have a kingdom impact in another’s life. And after you pray, take action and make an Impact for Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Generous Giving

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

So why talk about money? Because money…how we use it…is a good indication of our spiritual health. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples not to worry…about food or clothing…the necessities of life…God will provide for us just as He does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He says instead that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.

Generosity is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity. Throughout church history, the care for the poor was a sign of the church. It won converts, it was a witness in itself of the power and provision of God. Because our Father is generous, He wants His kids to be generous too. The liberating joy of our salvation should loosen our grip on our earthly fortunes…our stuff…and free us up to give with unbridled generosity. We, as believers, should be the most generous folks on the planet!

But so often we’re not. And maybe it’s because we have too low a view of God. Maybe we’re afraid to trust Him because deep down inside we believe Him to be stingy…that somehow He might hold out on us. And if we give away what we have, there won’t be enough for us. Yeah…but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints of who God is…think about the number of stars in the heavens, the number of galaxies, the greatness and vastness of space. In the Genesis account, when God creates the sun, moon and stars, what is their purpose? To give light to the earth, and for signs and for seasons. Seems to be a bit extravagant, doesn’t it?

What about God’s grace and His mercy and His love? His boundless, immeasurable love? The cross where the sins of all mankind were placed on His beloved Son. Every sin atoned for. Every one. So that all might be saved…if they will believe in Jesus.

So if God is so generous in these things…both in creation and in redemption, then why would He be stingy in providing for our needs? Our generosity problem has nothing to do with our wealth or lack thereof. It has everything to do with our faith and obedience. So the question is, do you trust God enough to give generously?

If so, where might you start? Well, if you’ve never given before you’ve got to build your giving muscles. Maybe you have given sporadically. This year I challenge you to be intentional, sit down with your family and pick an amount and give that amount regularly. Sign up for online giving. Revisit your giving throughout the year to see how you’re doing. If you’ve been a consistent giver, make it a goal to increase that amount…shoot for generous. Watch how God provides. Strive to become a generous giver, not a bigger barn builder. Remember God provides for us so that we can then provide for others. When we invest in the kingdom, it pays eternal dividends.

Make 2019 the year that generous giving becomes a priority for you. Taste and see that the Lord is good…test Him in this. Malachi 3:10 says this, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” We have a money back guarantee when we bountifully sow…when we richly invest in the kingdom of our generous God.

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This post is based on a sermon from our January series, Fresh Start. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

Paul says it this way in Romans 12.2, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” By spending daily time in God’s Word, the Spirit takes the truth that we have read and begins to transform us, so that whatever the situation, we can discern what it is that God would have us do.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile (generally)…of course I know that as you get older there is that law of diminishing returns thing, but humor me. If you skipped going to the gym for a time, or didn’t run or ride your bike, you find out pretty quickly how much you’ve lost. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. It’s true in every area of life…if we don’t use it, we lose it. So how do we miss it spiritually? It should be obvious that if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

Spiritual infants might struggle with these questions/statements…

  • I need to go to church regularly? I’ve never heard that before. 
  • I need to pray regularly and read the Bible regularly? I’ve never heard that before. How would I do that? 
  • I didn’t know the Bible said that. 
  • Giving? What’s that? 
  • I’ve always connected with God through nature. Being outdoors is my church. 
  • I don’t need anyone else. It’s just me and Jesus.
  • I know Jesus is God, but isn’t karma real too? 
  • Trinity? Huh? Now you’ve got me confused. 
  • My wife and I just got baptized, and on the way home from church we got into a big fight. What’s up with all that? I thought Jesus was supposed to take care of all our problems.

So, if you suspect that you might be an “infant”, how do you begin your path to maturity? Get ready to have your mind blown…start training today with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying. If you are trying, then you may be tempted to give up when you fail. But the beauty of training is that failure is built into the process. Sometimes hard to do in our microwave, google, instant access society…we want everything now…but it takes patience and an ability to take the long view.

Where to start reading? What do you like to read? Do you like poetry? Start with Psalms. Do you like wisdom literature, pithy sayings? Then, Proverbs. Action? Genesis or 1 Samuel or Mark. But read the Bible and not just about the Bible. What I mean by that is…many folks read devotional books and count that as their Bible time. Devotional books are great, but don’t let them replace your Bible. Pick a book and start. Work your way up to the heavier books like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Romans or Revelation. Pray before you start that God will help you put into practice what you’re learning. And if you miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up, just start again.

Let us press on to maturity then, spending daily time in God’s Word, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we might live and love like Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our January series, Fresh Start. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Gather

Hebrews 10.19-25

I came across this poem the other day…“Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, But has trouble enough of its own. Sing, and the hills will answer; Sigh, it is lost on the air. The echoes bound to a joyful sound, But shrink from voicing care. Rejoice, and men will seek you; Grieve, and they turn and go. They want full measure of all your pleasure, But they do not need your woe. Be glad, and your friends are many; Be sad, and you lose them all. There are none to decline your nectared wine, But alone you must drink life’s gall. Feast, and your halls are crowded; Fast, and the world goes by. Succeed and give, and it helps you live, But no man can help you die. There is room in the halls of pleasure For a long and lordly train, But one by one we must all file on Through the narrow aisles of pain.” The poem is called Solitude. Striking because it highlights the difference between why the world chooses to gather, and why we, as the church, as those who follow Jesus, choose to gather. The world gathers when it benefits them, when it makes them feel good, when it’s fun…when it serves “me”.

Contrast that with what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” There is a synergy that exists when we run after Jesus together…when we gather together. Synergy simply means that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. 1+1=3. It’s the way God’s designed it. We run faster, jump higher, reach more folks…we do better together.

Let me challenge you this year…in 2019…to make the weekend services a priority. It’s the time that we gather as a body to worship God together, to be encouraged and to be challenged, to be recharged and equipped. But let me also challenge you to come expecting God to do something. Come expecting to worship…to give rather than just receive. Come looking for the opportunity to serve those around you…maybe a kind word, a warm handshake/hug, a prayer…to provoke one another to love and good deeds…but come. And when you come, why not bring the one that Jim talked about with you?

My prayer for us as a church in 2019 is that we would continually draw near to God, intentionally pursuing Jesus with reckless abandon, and that we would hold fast our confession, being a light and a beacon of hope in our community, and that we would always provoke each other to love and good deeds, anxiously awaiting the return of our King.

May your 2019 be marked by an ever deepening experience of contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.

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This post is based on a sermon from our January series, Fresh Start. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Glorious Proclamation

Luke 1.26-38

Since the time of the fall, the people of God have been looking for the promised King who would come and crush the head of the serpent, put an end to sin and death, and bring eternal life so that they could reign with Him in His kingdom forever. And now the promised King will soon be here!

Mary is an unlikely candidate to be the mother of the Messiah from an earthly perspective…in this age of celebrity we might have expected someone more prestigious, someone more connected, a little more flash or a bigger deal, not a young, poor, small town girl…a nobody in the world’s eyes. I’m glad God’s not caught up in the things that we are. I’m glad that He constantly challenges and redefines our view of family and grace. He sees Mary’s humble heart, that she’s poor in spirit…she’s desperately craving His grace. She’s reflective…pondering the angel’s words, believing what the angel says, and then she humbly submits to the Lord’s will. She’s a great example for us.

God is fulfilling His promise of a King…God keeps His word. We can trust Him to keep His promises still today. Promises of the forgiveness of sins and a new heart, His Spirit dwelling within us, His presence with us, everlasting life and an eternal kingdom. This is what God will do. And only He can. He can do great and wondrous things and use whomever He chooses to accomplish His purpose however He wishes. You are not insignificant in God’s design…in His plan to reach the valley. From an earthly perspective, Mary was a nobody from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere, but not so from a heavenly perspective. She had a significant role to play in God’s plan of redemption…so do you. He wants to use you to impact the folks around you for His kingdom. The question is, will you trust Him to do so?

Join us next week as we continue our Advent story talking about Good News, Great Joy!

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series, Once Upon a Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Comfort in the Preparation

Isaiah 40.1-5

At a time in Israel’s history when things look pretty bleak…the people are returning from exile to a devastated Jerusalem with no king on the throne and under the reign of the nations, God says, “Comfort, O comfort My people…”. God has not abandoned His people nor has He forgotten His promise of a King. Not for them…not for us. This is what God will do. He has promised, and God keeps His promises. We can take comfort in that.

In Ezekiel 10, the glory of the LORD departed from the temple. A dreadful and horrible day that was. But God wasn’t finished yet. The glory would return. The King would come. The King has come. He comes to us where we are, in the wilderness of our lives…in the circumstances we find ourselves in. He wants us to be ready…to recognize our need for Him. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He has come to save us.

This is what God will do. Bring down mountains and raise up valleys, make the rough roads smooth and prepare the way…the radical spiritual transformation that only God can do through His Spirit when we believe in Jesus. Jesus changes everything! He doesn’t just want to rearrange the furniture in your life…He wants to totally remake you, shape you and mold you, and transform you to live and love like Him.

Whatever the storm in your life, God’s comfort is available. He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Where do you need His comfort today? What do you need to trust Him with right now?

One day the whole world will see and acknowledge Jesus as the promised King. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord…what a glorious day that will be for those who have trusted in Him. Worshiping the King and celebrating His return. But for those who have not trusted in Him, He is no less the King…but He will also be Judge. It will be a day of terror and great dread. Don’t wait. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, make today the day.

Join us next week as we continue our Advent story talking about The Glorious Proclamation.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series, Once Upon a Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Promise of a King

2 Samuel 7.8-16

What kind of King are you looking for this Christmas? David was a great king in many ways. He was fearless and passionate, strong and brave. He loved the Lord and his family. But David wasn’t the King God had promised. Solomon, his son, was also an outstanding king. Maybe even greater than his father. His wisdom was renowned. He was a brilliant strategist. He was wealthy beyond imagination. But he too fell far short of the King God had promised. There have been many kings and great leaders throughout history, but as amazing as anyone of them may have been, none comes even close to our coming King. He’s the King of righteousness and the King of peace. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He alone will rule over the nations of this earth.

We as believers are not looking forward to Jesus’ first coming…as a Baby in a manger. No we are looking for Jesus to return as the promised King. So I have to ask you, this Christmas are you anticipating Christmas festivities and the giving and receiving of gifts, or are you anticipating the return of your King…Jesus?

Jesus is our conquering King. He is the long-awaited, much anticipated Davidic King through whom God will establish an enduring kingdom…the true kingdom. Not an earthly kingdom that is destined to crumble and fade away, but an everlasting heavenly kingdom that encompasses both heaven and earth. Jesus is the One who will rule over all of creation. He is the One who provides life…true life that is eternal and reflects perfectly the Creator. He is the One who brings reconciliation so that we can be adopted into God’s family…sons and daughters of the King.

Is Jesus your King today?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series, Once Upon a Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul Turns to the Gentiles

Acts 13.44-52

The reaction to Paul’s preaching of the gospel in Pisidian Antioch is wildly mixed…for those who believe, primarily Gentiles, there is great joy at the good news that they too can be saved. For those who reject, primarily Jews, there is jealousy, anger and great hostility toward Paul and Barnabas.

In 2 Corinthians 2.15-16, Paul writes, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” When you share the gospel…when you tell others your story…not all will be excited. Some may actually be angry and behave very badly. Not all will believe. That shouldn’t keep us from telling others about Jesus. Because He is good news. And telling those around us about Him is the most loving thing we can do.

Plan A vs Plan B…some of us are stuck in our Plan B experience. Life hasn’t turned out like we expected. Welcome to life on planet earth. We’ve all experienced the crashing down of our hopes and dreams. Our own bad choices and/or the bad choices of others and/or life in a fallen world are all contributing factors, but for those of us who have trusted in Jesus, we have to believe that our Plan B is God’s Plan A. That He is using it all…the good and the bad…to conform us to the image of Jesus, to transform us to live and love like Him. You are where you are…you have the relationships and are in the circumstances that you are in on purpose. God wants to use you in those relationships and wants to use your circumstances to make you more like Him. If God can use the greatest evil the world has known, the most notorious murder in history, the death of the only truly innocent Man to bring about the greatest good…salvation for all who will believe in Him…can He not bring good out of your current circumstance?

So where are you with the gospel? Is it good news of great joy? If it is, who are you sharing it with? Who is that person in your life that would surprise you if they came to faith? How is “the word of the Lord spreading in your region”? If you are not sharing your story with folks around you, what’s holding you back? What’s keeping you from telling them about Jesus? Make this Advent season a time to reflect on the joy of your salvation…a time to reconnect with Jesus. Be on the lookout for opportunities to share your story and then do it with boldness.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Paul’s First Sermon

Acts 13.13-43

Paul’s first sermon is a pretty straightforward presentation of the gospel. Jesus is the King that God promised would come from ancient times…the King who brings in the kingdom. By believing in Him, we can be rescued from sin and death and spend an eternity with Him.

That’s awesome news! I love Paul’s reminder…this is what God did. He promised, and He did it so we can trust Him in telling our story. We can trust that He is with us through the good and bad, the ups and downs, whatever storm may come our way, leading and guiding us, shaping and molding us, transforming us to live and love like Jesus.

It’s easy for the routine…the familiar…to keep us from seeing the bigger picture…what’s important…right in front of us. How many people go to the gym for years and look exactly the same? They have a routine, but not a goal…a bigger picture, so nothing changes. Not so unlike the Jews in Jerusalem, who got caught up in the routine and missed the bigger picture, Jesus!

How do we keep from missing Jesus? Well, for those of us who have believed, our gathering together on the weekend is part of that. It’s kind of like going to the gym…it’s only part of the exercise of our faith. What we do throughout the rest of the week matters…time in the Word, time in prayer, time with other believers…those are standard, part of keeping Jesus in front of us. But I think one of the biggest things that keeps us from missing Jesus are the interruptions…the unexpected phone calls or texts or visits…unplanned opportunities to be generous givers of our time, our resources and ourselves.

Many of you have been in the church for a while. Maybe you are here every week. You’ve heard the Word taught. You know about Jesus. You can rehearse the ancient stories. But have you believed in Him? You see, knowing about Him and knowing Him…believing in Him…are two different things. You’ve heard me often say, “Jesus changes everything.” If you’ve believed in Him, how has your life changed? What’s different now from what it was before?

Examine your heart…think about your life. Have you trusted in Jesus? Maybe you know about Him, but do you know Him? It’s the most important decision you will ever make. You see, for those of us who believe…we have forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection…a kingdom awaits us. But for those who refuse to believe, only judgment. Jesus is either your King or He will be your Judge. Why not acknowledge Him as King today?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The First Missionary Journey: First Encounter

Acts 13.1-12

Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the Spirit from Antioch on their first missionary journey. Their excitement is tempered when they have their first encounter of spiritual opposition from a guy named Bar-Jesus.

The sad irony in this story…a Jew attempts to block a Gentile from coming to faith. You see, through Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The Jews were to be a blessing to the nations, leading them to God and not barring the way. Bar-Jesus openly opposed Paul and Barnabas. I would hope that none of us openly oppose the gospel…that none of us would willingly stand in the way of someone trusting in Jesus. But even if it’s not openly, can’t we subtly become stumbling blocks? Maybe by the way we fail to follow Jesus…the way we fail to point others to Him?

God’s fingerprints are all over this story, just as they have been throughout the book of Acts. The Spirit is actively leading, guiding, empowering, acting, choosing, sending, moving…it’s His church. The danger is when we attempt to hijack the Spirit’s job and make it our own. And then we wonder why nothing spiritually significant happens. It’s a reminder for us…the battle belongs to the Lord. Transforming families to live and love like Jesus is not about a program…it’s the work of the Spirit. It happens as we submit to Him…as we worship and serve, engaging in the work He’s given each one of us to do.

Each of us has been gifted and called and equipped for a purpose…something that, when lived out, amazing things happen. A few weeks ago, Ricky talked about living with a heavenly perspective. It’s living a life of consequence, a life of deep kingdom impact. Each of us has a part to play…a role, if you will, in the kingdom drama. What would it look like if we were all pursuing that together? How would it impact our church? How might it impact this valley and beyond? In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said to seek the kingdom and live according to God’s righteousness. How’s that going for you? Are you being led by the Spirit to say yes to kingdom things? BTW when we follow the Spirit’s leading that doesn’t mean its an easy journey…that the Enemy’s going to give us a free pass…on the contrary we need to expect opposition. But, like Paul and Barnabas, we need to do it anyway.

Where are you saying yes to serving God and his Church? Are you sharing your story with others, are you involved in a ministry, are you giving financially to the mission? If not, why not? What’s holding you back?

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This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Who’s the Boss?

Acts 12.1-25

The story begins and ends with a man named Herod. At the outset he kills one of the Apostles and arrests a second, but in the end he is killed by an angel of the Lord for his arrogance. Herod thought that he was the one who was in control…that he was the boss. He found out he was wrong. Dead wrong.

Once again we see the importance of prayer in the early church, and the importance of prayer in moving the mission forward. They prayed collectively, and they prayed fervently. They knew that prayer was their primary weapon in the war against the forces of darkness. I wonder if we know the same? Is prayer our primary go-to…our first response, or is it something we try when all else fails? When we pray, we recognize our dependence on God…He’s in control…He’s the Boss (Philippians 4.8). When we don’t pray, who are we depending on?

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize who’s the boss…who’s in control, especially when we are focused on our circumstances. When we see the world from a circumstantial point of view, it sure looks like we’re losing. Just watch the news. Take a look at social media. Hatred, hostility and violence are up, kindness, patience, decency are down…forget about love. Christianity is reviled and mocked, and those who hold to biblical values are called “haters” or “bigots” or “backwards”. It’s all the more reason to pray. Because we need an eternal perspective. The folks who attack us are not our enemy…they are held captive by our Enemy. Just like we were. Our job is not to rage against them, but to love them. To serve them. To share our story with them. To tell them about Jesus. That’s not easy. Again we need to pray! So this week, I challenge you to get down on your knees and pray…whatever the chaos in your life, whatever chains are binding you…make prayer your first response and watch what God does.

There’s only One who’s the Boss. Only One qualified for that job description. Only One King of kings and Lord of lords. Our Creator. Our Savior. Our Redeemer. And though the world around us is shaking, He can never be shaken. He is never caught off guard…never says, “Whoops”. We can therefore have confidence because He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

What Are You Known For?

Acts 11.19-30

What are you known for? How would folks who know you best describe you? What about your enemies? For the believers there in Antioch, it was simply “Christian”. Because of their devotion to Him and time spent learning about Him, they were beginning to look a lot like Jesus…to live and love like Him. So much so that they were called “little christs” or followers of Christ.

And while “Christian” had a very distinct meaning then, today I’m not so sure. Two thousand years of baggage has blurred the distinction of what a Christian is supposed to be to the point that it really is unrecognizable. Does Christian mean…a good person? a church-goer? a conservative? a Republican? an American? Maybe it is used to identify a person as a believer, but do we mean a believer whose heart intent remains with the Lord? A believer whose intentional about his or her pursuit of Jesus…spending regular, daily time with Him? Is that what we mean when we say we are a “Christian” church?

I think it’s time to reclaim the name “Christian.” It’s time for us to stop pursuing the things of this world and turn our hearts to pursue the Lord. It’s time for us to fix the intent of our heart on Him. It’s time for us to devote ourselves to the teaching of the Word (Matthew 28.18-20). We kicked off this year with our When You…series (when you read, pray, give, fast), spiritual disciplines designed to deepen our faith and result in the Spirit’s work in our lives becoming more evident to others. That’s when we begin to have an impact on the world around us, and folks begin to notice the difference.

I can’t leave off here without saying one more word about giving. Giving is a very Christian thing to do. You don’t have to be a Christian to give, but if you are a Christian you should give. Giving…of our time, our resources, ourselves…is probably the most self-less thing we can do. It reflects faith in God to provide and love toward others who are in need. It’s a great way to silence the “what about me?” tendency that causes us to clench our fists rather than open our hands. It’s also a great way to invest in the kingdom.

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

A Level Playing Field

Acts 11.1-18

Jewish believers are questioning Peter’s reasoning, not for preaching to Cornelius and his household, but for eating with them. They struggle to understand how Peter, an Apostle and their fearless leader, being a Jew could have fellowship with the Gentiles.

Buried in their criticism there seems to be this underlying assumption that will become more clear later on that before the Gentiles can be welcomed into the church, they must first become Jews. After all, the OT covenants with Abraham and David and even the New Covenant were all made by God with the Jewish people. The nations could be blessed through Abraham, but even then they weren’t on the same footing. The Jews were God’s chosen people.

The scandal of the gospel is that Gentiles too could enter into the kingdom simply by believing in Jesus without first becoming Jews (Colossians 1.21-27). The gospel + anything is legalism. It’s what Paul rails against in Galatians. Salvation is by grace through faith alone… In other words, the Jews and the Gentiles are on equal footing. There is now one people of God…doesn’t mean that God is done with the Jews as a people (stay tuned for Romans and Revelation), but it means that we have equal access to the Father through Jesus, that we have the same Spirit living in us. I think it’s hard for us to understand how big a deal this is. We who were the furthest from God and least deserving of His mercy…that He could love even us, that He would welcome us into His kingdom. We of all people should be the most thankful. There’s this awesome picture in Revelation 7.9-10…“a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” 

And while we may think this was just their problem aka this group of Jewish believers, how often do we in the church look at others and jump to conclusions because they don’t do things the way we would like for them to? We say that we want unbelievers coming to church, but the reality is that it’s messy. It’s much easier if someone becomes a Christian before they start attending church. How often do we miss what God is up to because we are caught up in our own agenda?

Often we’ve said we should expect persecution…following Jesus is counter-cultural and revolutionary…it’s treason against the god of this world and an affront to those living according to this world’s values…so we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a predictable outcome. They persecuted Jesus, and they will persecute us. So far so good. But what happens when the persecution comes from inside the church…so-called friendly fire or team kills? We expect it out there, but when it happens in here? It just shouldn’t be. We’re all on a level playing field because of Jesus. Just Jesus. Because Jesus + ______= Legalism. Is there a + _____ in your life? If so, what is it? And what are you going to do about it?

One day we will be gathered around a throne worshiping God, not worried about what divides us, but celebrating the One who unites us. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Cornelius’ Story Part 2

Acts 10.23b-48

Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius and his household, and they believe in Jesus and are saved. They receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized into the church. Jesus said to the Apostles, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The stage is now set for the final act of the mission to begin. The final kingdom key has been used and the door is now open. The gospel will soon spread to all nations and to the ends of the earth.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, what’s holding you back? What are you waiting for? We will all one day stand before Jesus. And when we do, He will either be our King or our Judge. At that point it will be too late to change your mind. What will it profit a person to gain the whole world and then at the end to find out that all you once held dear and built your life upon, all this world reveres and wars to own, all you once thought gain…comes crashing down. Why not trust in Jesus today? He will not only forgive your sins and give you eternal life, but He will also give your life purpose and meaning today. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved, and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

If you have trusted in Jesus, it’s your turn to pass the baton of faith on. Like Cornelius, we have become unlikely citizens of God’s kingdom. The faith that we have has been passed down from those who went before. I know it seems like we spend a lot of time talking about sharing your story. Maybe you think…yeah, I got it, I got it. But do you? Have you shared your story? If not, why not? Somebody shared their story with you…when will you share yours with someone else? When will you pass the baton? Who in your life needs to hear your story…how Jesus brought you from death to life and gave you new purpose and meaning, how He’s changed everything?

Let me challenge you this week to identify one person you can share your story with. And then do it. Just do it. I dare ya. And see what God does with it.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Cornelius’ Story Part 1

Acts 10.1-23a

Cornelius has a vision, Peter goes into a trance…little did these men know that God is in the midst of fulfilling His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The first Gentile is about to be symbolically welcomed into the kingdom in the book of Acts, opening the floodgates for the rapid expansion of the church to all nations and to the ends of the earth.

Once again we see God’s hand at work through the story. An angel appears to Cornelius saying send for Peter. After a perplexing vision, the Spirit tells Peter to go without misgivings. Just like with Ananias and Saul, another divine meet-and-great that will have monumental implications for the history of the church.

Jesus had proclaimed to the Apostles that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. And now approximately ten years later, the gospel has yet to break beyond the second level…Judea and Samaria. Up to now an almost entirely Jewish thing. But God’s putting the pieces in place. He’s working on a guy named Peter to turn his “By no means Lord” into welcoming the men from Cornelius in and giving them lodging…and eventually having fellowship with them in Cornelius’ house. He’s preparing a guy named Saul. The gates of hell stand no chance.

Peter doesn’t know yet what God is up to when He calls him to action, but just like Abraham, he has been chosen for a unique purpose. Just like Saul. Just like you and me.

But even then, Peter has to be pried away from looking at his circumstances from a how-does this-impact-me mindset…a mindset that leads him and us invariably to respond selfishly, even if, like Peter, we really want to please the Lord. We often fail to grasp the bigger picture and instead of trusting and obeying…simply saying “yes”, we say, “what about me?” or worse, “by no means Lord.”

We need to learn to resist resistance to respond to God with an open and willing heart. When we choose to follow Jesus we become part of the rebellion…an other worldly kingdom…whose mission it is to storm the gates of hell and crush the power of Satan, setting the captives free into the abundant life that God intends for them. It is not always about us. When we trust God, our agenda, purpose and motivation changes. And when we realize it is not about us, it frees us up to do His work. And when we know God because we have spent time with Him, we have the confidence to turn a prompting of the Lord into action for Him and His people. And when we do it again and again and again a warrior of faith emerges. His Spirit transforms us a little bit more to live and love like Jesus. One step at a time…from Lydda to Joppa, from Joppa to a tanner’s house, from a tanner’s house to Cornelius’ house. Each time Peter said yes, he looked more like Jesus. You will too. But we have to turn our “by no means Lord” into “yes Lord.”

You are here today because Peter unlocked the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles. It all started because Peter welcomed a couple of “unclean” guys into his home. He trusted the Lord. He dropped his agenda. He opened his mind to the possibility that God could use him in that moment to transform lives. He extended his hand to simply turn the knob and open the door. You are also here today because someone else said “yes” to the Lord and shared the gospel with you. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.

If you are here seeking, like Cornelius, start knocking. Talk to a friend about Jesus. And if you have already walked through that door and are following Jesus, say “yes” to Him…open your ears, open your heart and be ready and willing to be the one God uses to open the door for the next guy. Who is that for you? Is there someone in your life about whom you are saying, “by no means Lord”? God has chosen you for such a time as this. Pray, think, then act…try saying “yes” to the Lord instead.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Back to Peter

Acts 9.32-43

Peter performs two miracles reminiscent of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels…the healing of a paralytic and the raising of the dead. Both demonstrate the Spirit’s work through Peter and are confirmation to a watching world that his witness is true. Jesus is alive! Both miracles result in lots of folks coming to faith.

What started in Jerusalem has reached the boundaries of Judea and Samaria and will soon break through to the uttermost parts of the world. What started as a Jewish thing is soon to become an all-people’s thing…fulfilling what God had promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The gospel is spreading and crashing through barriers of all kinds.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, what’s holding you back? What are you waiting for? Jesus will not only forgive your sins and give you eternal life, but He will also give your life purpose and meaning. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, we are beneficiaries of the gospel’s spread…ours is a faith that has been passed down through the ages. Faithful men and women…beginning with the Apostles…who bore witness to a resurrected Jesus, proclaiming the good news of the gospel…forgiveness of sins and life everlasting for everyone who will believe…a message they shared with friends and family, with co-workers and neighbors, with crowds and individuals, with anyone who would listen.

Now it’s our turn to pass the baton of faith to a new generation of believers. It’s our turn to share the gospel with those in our lives who so desperately need it. It’s our turn to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus. And it’s nothing less than an all-out assault on the kingdom of darkness…a bum rush, if you will, on the gates of hell. It’s not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and boldness…a willingness to face opposition and even persecution…knowing that it’s worth it. Life in the kingdom is worth it. Following Jesus is worth it. So are you ready? Have you written out your story? Are you on the hunt for opportunities to share it?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

From Persecutor to Preacher

Acts 9.19.b-31

Saul goes from being a persecutor to a preacher. Jesus has changed everything. He has passed from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…his sins have been forgiven and his destiny will never be the same. Good news, right? Right?

And yet for Saul the good news is met with disdain by his one-time-friends turned enemies and doubt by his one-time-enemies turned friends. Except for Barnabas. He recognizes Saul’s sincere belief and welcomes him into the fold.

Saul is excited about his new-found faith. He can’t wait to tell others about Jesus. That’s a good thing. His excitement is not quenched even when met with hostility and the threat of death. Still he will preach the gospel and face whatever trial may come. Saul’s time alone with the Lord…in His Word and in prayer…fuels his fire and prepares him for what inevitably will come.

Are you like Saul, maybe new to the faith, excited about the road ahead, anticipating the impact that you will have for the kingdom? Realize that challenges will come. Some of those challenges will come from unbelieving friends who feel like you’ve walked away from them. Some of those challenges will come from other believers who can’t believe you trusted in Jesus. Take courage. Either way, you have to be faithful to what God has called you to do…tell people about Jesus…share your story. Spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer and time fellowshipping with other believers, allowing your faith to grow and deepen and mature. And be patient. Saul’s greatest impact will come years later…

Are you like Barnabas, an encourager who comes alongside, a welcomer-in of those on the fringes? Some definitely have the gift of encouragement…you know who you are and so do the folks who know you well. Keep doing it. We need you. But I think all of us can be a Barnabas to an extent. All of us can come alongside another. You see, discipleship is not just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. God never intended us to walk the path alone. We need each other. Paul uses both the analogy of a body and of a house to describe our interconnectedness…our interdependence on one another. The person you may be encouraging may be the one God wants to use to turn this world upside down. Like Saul.

Maybe you haven’t yet had an encounter with Jesus. Maybe you think you are too far gone to be saved. You’re not. Saul wasn’t. Neither are you. God wants to work a miracle in your life…to bring you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son…to give your life purpose and meaning and to use you to impact the lives of those around you for His kingdom. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

For the rest of us, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What impact will you have on the kingdom?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Saul’s Story

Acts 9.1-19a

Saul has an encounter with Jesus, and his life is forever changed. And not just his life. God will use him to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth…planting churches and writing letters which will make up a majority of the NT. Saul’s encounter with Jesus is so significant not only to the book of Acts, but also in the history of the church that this is the first of three times that his conversion is talked about in the story.

Saul was chosen for a purpose…God would use him to have a unique impact on the kingdom. Ananias was chosen for a purpose…he will be the one to commission Saul. God has also chosen you for a purpose…He wants to use you to have a unique impact on the kingdom. Do you realize that? Maybe you’ve never heard that before, but God chose you for a purpose…and the purpose isn’t so that you could go to heaven. If that were the case, you would already be there. No, He chose you so that you would have a kingdom impact on the folks around you. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2.8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Jesus calls it “bearing fruit”. You have been chosen for a purpose.

Ananias was surprised that the Lord would have him go and find Saul…probably even more surprised that the church’s greatest enemy would become its greatest ally. Who is it in your life that God may be calling you to share your story with? Who is it that you think is beyond reach? Saul’s story is a reminder and an encouragement that no one is beyond the reach of the gospel. No one is so lost that they cannot be found, so blind that they cannot see, so dead that they cannot be made alive. Do you believe that today? Do you believe that there is nothing you could have ever done that could keep you from Jesus?

We see God’s fingerprints all over this story. It’s no accident that Saul comes to faith. Not only does Jesus appear to Saul on the road to Damascus, He also appears to Saul a second time and to Ananias to arrange a meet and greet. God is in control. He’s in control of the events of this story, and He’s in control of the events in your story.

Maybe you haven’t yet had an encounter with Jesus. Maybe you think you are too far gone to be saved. You’re not. Saul wasn’t. Neither are you. God wants to work a miracle in your life…to bring you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son…to give your life new purpose and meaning and to use you to impact the lives of those around you for His kingdom. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

If you have had an encounter with Jesus, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What kind of impact are you going to have on the kingdom?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Three Marriage Assassins

Ephesians 4.29, Genesis 2.22-25, Matthew 6.9-15

Unwholesome communication. Unfaithfulness. Unforgiveness. Three assassins that can kill your marriage if left unattended.

Jesus can and does heal and restore broken marriages. He is the only hope we have for a successful marriage…only He can transform us through the Spirit to live and love like Him. But we have to put Him first…in our individual lives and in our marriage. Doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges…that these assassins won’t be lurking, but it means that we are committed to seeing our marriage through for the glory of God until death do us part.

Earlier I said, “No wonder for the average church attender the divorce rate within the church is about the same as that outside the church.” That may be true for the average church attender, but according to Focus on the Family (Divorce Rate in the Church – As High as the World? by Glenn Stanton), those who take their faith seriously, those pursuing their relationship with Jesus wholeheartedly, are 35% less likely to divorce than those outside the church. That’s way better, but still too high.

When you said “I do”, you entered into a covenant with God that is to remain unbroken. The two of you became one. Physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. That’s why sex outside of marriage is so dangerous…it pollutes the oneness of your relationship. So what happens when the one tries to become two again? Both are destroyed. Not to mention the collateral damage to your kids. It’s not what God intended. There’s no such thing as a good divorce. It’s not too late, and you are not too far gone…there is help and hope for your marriage.

If you have already experienced the devastating effects of divorce, don’t lose heart. God’s faithfulness never changes. Pursue your relationship with Him and make Him your first priority. He can and will use you to impact the kingdom in significant ways just has He has with countless others who have experienced the painful realities of life this side of the garden. The Bible is riddled with their stories.

If you are single, one of the best things you can do to prepare for marriage, if that’s the route you feel God calling you to, is to pursue your relationship with Jesus and make Him your highest priority…don’t wait until you’re married. Become the kind of spouse God wants you to be today.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Central Marriages Series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

God’s Design for Marriage

Genesis 2.18-25, Ephesians 5.22-33

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding…Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. God takes marriage seriously. So should we.

Our culture would have us believe that the goal of marriage is happily ever after. If your spouse isn’t doing that for you, then by all means, find someone who will. If the frog doesn’t turn into a prince, try another frog. If the princess stops looking like a princess, then find someone else who does. It’s about my needs and what I want. Self is king. No marriage can survive that…Christian or otherwise.

But the goal of marriage isn’t happily ever after. The goal of marriage is what the Bible calls oneness…a husband and wife who are pursuing their lives together in Jesus as one. Marriage is not an agreement or a contract. Marriage is a covenant. A sacred covenant that we make before God that is to remain unbroken. That’s why we make our vows publicly…to be loyal in adversity, patient in sickness, encouraging in affliction, comforting in sorrow, and forsaking all others, keeping ourselves only unto our spouse, so long as we both shall live. That’s why we say things like…“I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others to cleave only to you till death do us part. This is my solemn vow.” That’s why we exchange rings. It’s why we say, “Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

The only hope we have for a successful marriage is Jesus…only He can transform us through the Spirit to live and love like Him. Only He can give us an eternal perspective on life and a compelling reason to invest everything in the kingdom. It’s only when I’m pursuing Him in earnest, that I will even have the desire to love my wife well. It’s only when she is pursuing Him the same way that she will have the desire to submit to me. If each of us is committed to being a godly spouse, we will have a godly marriage. Doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges…that’s part of life outside the garden, but it means that we are committed to seeing it through for the glory of God until death do us part.

If you are married today, I want to ask you to do something this week. Think about your marriage. Would you say that you are on track, pursuing oneness with each other as you pursue your relationship with Jesus? Wives, are you submitting to your husband? Husbands are you loving and leading your wife well? Is Jesus your first love? Once you’ve had time to think about it, why not talk to your spouse about it.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Central Marriages Series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Jonah and the Great Fish

Jonah

God’s plan has always been for the nations. He promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son…

How did Jonah miss that? He had a tremendous response from folks he seemingly couldn’t care less about…first on the ship and then in Nineveh. And the overwhelming response of the folks in Nineveh even makes him angry. He definitely doesn’t share God’s heart on the matter. Remember what I said last week about Joshua and Jericho…had the folks in Jericho repented…had they aligned themselves with Israel like Rahab…God would have shown mercy. Judgment is always the last resort. They too could have been included among God’s people. Jonah reminds us of that.

I think if we are honest with ourselves we can be like Jonah. Maybe for good reason…or so we think. Maybe someone’s hurt us in some way. Maybe they are making bad life choices. I don’t know. We can come up with all kinds of reasons why, but the bottom line is: we don’t think they deserve God’s mercy. We of course do. But they definitely don’t. Oh, we would never say it out loud, or at least not where everyone could hear us. But our action or inaction speaks louder than words. Who are you avoiding/refusing to share your story with? Maybe you think they won’t respond in faith, or maybe you think they will. But how can we expect God to be gracious to us if we won’t share His grace with others?

Two things that are unmistakable in this story…God’s sovereignty over and His love for His creation. He appoints a great wind and a great fish, a plant and a worm and a scorching east wind. He directs His prophet and even uses the prophet’s disobedience to accomplish the salvation of a great number of folks. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of calamity. He loves the lost. He loves us too. And like a good Parent, He pursues us even when we are running from Him.

God’s question to Jonah at the end of the story isn’t answered. “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?” We all need the LORD’s compassion. Who do you need to share it with this week?

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from the book of Jonah. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

Joshua 6

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho…well not quite. The LORD fought the battle of Jericho. And the walls came tumbling down.

This is a story of God’s promise and its fulfillment, of faith and obedience. From start to finish, the battle is the LORD’s. He had given Jericho into Joshua’s hand well before the battle commenced. It reminds me of Paul’s journey to Rome. No matter what the obstacle…be it the plots of the unbelieving Jews or the ferocity of the storm or the fear of the sailors or the fangs of the viper…God said that Paul would appear before Caesar in Rome and Paul did. What God says, God does. He can be trusted.

But Joshua had a part to play. His was to respond in faith to what God had said. Jesus said, “Those who hear My words and act on them may be compared to…” Hearing alone won’t do. There must be a response in faith.  For us as believers, it’s important to remember that faith is demonstrated by action. To hear and not to do is not to hear. To believe and not to act is really not to believe. What is it that you need to obey God in? What response do you need to make?

What if Joshua had decided not to listen to God and instead went with conventional wisdom? He’s a military guy. What if he devised his own plans? Joshua already knew the answer to that…he knew the consequences of not doing things God’s way, of not trusting Him but instead choosing to go his own way. When the Israelites failed to trust God and enter the land after coming out of Egypt, God said you’ve got forty years to think about it. None of those who were supposed to enter would be able to. Then they decided to make a run at it and were soundly defeated. The battle is the LORD’s. Forty years of wilderness wandering. Moses unable to enter the promised land. Had Joshua decided to forego God’s instructions and rush the city using whatever military acumen he may have possessed, the results would have been disastrous. The same is true for us when we choose to ignore God’s instructions and do things our own way. And we wonder why things aren’t working out…we’ve forgotten that the battle is the LORD’s.

But what if God’s instructions don’t make sense? Last first, love your enemies, etc. Probably didn’t make sense to Joshua either, but the battle is the LORD’s. Ours is to trust and obey. Proverbs 3.5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your path.”

Presumably all of the folks in Jericho believed the Israelites were a threat. That’s why they shut themselves in their fortress. They believed that God was on Israel’s side. They had a choice to make in the moment…they could have responded in faith like Rahab. They could have acknowledged and turned to God and welcomed the Israelites in. And like Rahab, they could have become a part of the community of believers. Instead they chose to turn away from Him. And they experienced God’s wrath. Sin is serious, and God takes sin seriously. So should we. Jesus is either your King, or He will be your Judge.

Let me leave you with this. There is room for all in the kingdom. Rahab may have seemed like one of the least likely folks to make it in. She hasn’t made the greatest of life choices. And yet, when she has an encounter with the LORD, everything changes. Her life takes a different trajectory. Her past isn’t erased…it is a part of the story of God’s grace in her life. And she has the high honor of being listed in the genealogy of the King (Matthew 1.5)!

pro rege

This post is based on a sermon from Joshua 6. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster