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’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