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)!

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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

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

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