Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is often the first bit of Bible that folks commit to memory. And rightly so. It’s brought comfort to countless numbers of folks throughout the ages.

When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.

It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.

The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.

One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m on the step mill at the gym, when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. “He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection [1726], London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)

Someone asked me, “Is prayer for us or for God?” Interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbors…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things and who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.

But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…, but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He that He is leading us and never leaves us alone in the midst of our darkest times. He will see us through, whatever the storm.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they reflected my own thinking at some point in time. I do think what we ask God is important, but primarily for this reason…it reveals where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to make us like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and time spent in prayer just talking to your Father.

Psalm 23 reminds me of who God is. So when I come to Him in prayer, I can thank Him for taking care of me…guiding me, directing me, providing for my needs, protecting me, His presence with me.

I want us to practice praying. We’re going to use Psalm 23 as a guide. You can pray right where you are. Start with… “The LORD is my shepherd…” Take each part of that statement and emphasize a different word. Thank Him for being your Shepherd. 

Ask God to provide for your needs.

Ask God to direct your paths.

Thank God for being with you in both green pastures and dark valleys, in both good and bad times. If you are in a bad time right now, ask Him to remind you often of His presence with you and for His help to weather the storm.

Thank God for His goodness and His lovingkindness that pursues you…for His abundant grace in your life.

Thank God for the promise of the kingdom and eternal life that is yours.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Gift of Giving

1 Chronicles 29.1-20

Giving is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. You have heard me say often…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, and fellowship with other believers as often as you can, but giving is another one of those disciplines that’s at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know how we can express love…for God or for our neighbor…without giving. Giving of our time. Giving of our abilities. Giving of our resources. Giving of ourselves. Giving reflects the love that God so generously has shown toward us in Jesus.

When I was growing up, giving was not a practice my parents modeled. With eight kids…money was always tight. So giving wasn’t something I was used to…and putting myself through college, I never had two nickels to rub together as my dad would say. I didn’t think I could afford to give. So it wasn’t until I met my wife Wendy that I even considered giving as a spiritual discipline. And even then, I wasn’t sure how the giving thing would work out. But we did it anyway, and we haven’t looked back since.

If giving is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” Let me just challenge you to try it. Pick an amount and begin to give regularly. Set a goal…maybe ten percent, and build those giving muscles until you reach it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. When we’ve given, God’s always been faithful to meet our needs. But a word of caution…it’s not just something to do to check a box or somehow promote yourself. God cares about our hearts when we give…what’s our motivation? Is it to please Him? Is it to further His kingdom work? Make sure He has you first…all of you. Then the right motivation and the want-to for giving will be there.

Everything that we have comes from God. We are merely stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Whether He’s entrusted us with little like the widow or much like King David, it’s all His. We have to keep that in mind. Sometime it’s harder to give when you have more…our stuff tends to capture our hearts and cause us to want more. Many times it’s those who have the least who give the most…who are the most generous. The amount may not be as much, but the sacrifice is greater and the joy of giving more abundant.

For some of us, giving is a discipline that we’ve practiced for awhile. Somewhere along your spiritual journey, someone challenged you to make giving a regular practice, and so you’ve done it for years. Thank you for your faithfulness. My question for you is…is giving a duty or a delight? Have you passed from giving to giving generously?

This is one area that I wanted to challenge myself in this year, so I came up with a simple plan that you are free to steal. Whenever I’m in line, I will offer to pay for the person behind me. Not every time, but every time the Spirit brings it to mind. It creates the opportunity for some great conversation, and it’s helping me stretch from giving to giving generously.

Giving isn’t just a resource thing…one of the most valuable commodities we have is time. It may also be the thing we are least likely to give up. So maybe exercising your giving muscles with your time looks like making “yes” your default answer instead of “no”. Seeing interruptions as opportunities to minister instead of distractions to be avoided.

So why not give giving a try, and you too can experience what a gift it really is.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8.26-40

Philip shares his story and the good news of the gospel with both the crowds and with an individual. He is a faithful servant who obeys the will of His Master. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and invites us to join Him in that mission.

This story is a reminder that God cares about each one of us individually. Here He orchestrates events and circumstances so that both the eunuch and Philip are in the right place at the right time. He even provides the water so that the eunuch could be baptized…on a desert road.

Just as God orchestrated events in the eunuch’s life to bring him to faith, He has also worked in each one of us who have trusted in Him, orchestrating events, bringing the right person or persons at the right time to share with us the life-giving message of salvation in Jesus. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, this is one of those orchestrating events. It’s no accident or coincidence that you are reading this blog post…

And if you have trusted in Jesus, God wants to use you to impact the lives of those around you for the kingdom. Are you ready? Do you believe that the gospel is good news? That’s foundational. We have to believe that the gospel really is good news. If that’s true for you, have you taken the time to write down your story? Start there. Then ask God for opportunities to share your faith. But be warned…if you ask, He will give them to you. You don’t have to force it…you just have to be sensitive to what God is doing in the moment, and then be courageous in sharing your story.

I’ve had the opportunity to share the gospel in large settings and one-on-one. Both are awesome, but I can tell you that the one-on-one settings are more challenging, yet more rewarding in a lot of ways. One-on-one I still get scared and have to pray for boldness…even as a pastor…but I’ve found that when I’m obedient and just say “yes” in the moment, that God is faithful to give me courage, and it ends up being an easy conversation…I don’t even feel like I have to drive. I’m just along for the ride. Sometimes when I’m talking to folks it’s a “no” when it comes to Jesus, sometimes I’ve found out later my conversation was one along the way that led to their trusting in Jesus, and sometimes I’ve gotten the awesome privilege of seeing someone trust in Jesus. My job is simply to be obedient.

How about you? Are you ready? Are you available? Will you be obedient?

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

The Gospel Spreads to Samaria

Acts 8.1-25

Don’t do what Simon says…don’t be like Simon, seeing the gospel as a means of promoting your own agenda…of promoting yourself. Instead be like Philip, who believed in Jesus and promoted His kingdom, and who also, in a time of persecution, was faithful and obedient to proclaim the gospel and point others to Jesus. 

What Saul and his buddies meant for evil, God will use to grow His church. In Philip’s case it’s persecution, for you God may be using your current circumstances to lead you to your next kingdom assignment. Will you, like Philip, be obedient and faithful?

Do you recognize the opportunities that God is giving you to tell your story? Do you notice them in your workplace, with your friends and family, with your neighbors, or wherever God has you? Whether it’s in a time of relative calm or chaos, the gospel should be part of the luggage we take with us wherever we go.

Finally, are you pointing others to Jesus and pursuing His kingdom like Philip, or are you still living according to this world’s values like Simon, pursuing your own kingdom? Are you living for this world or the one to come? One path leads to abundant life in the kingdom, the other…a scathing rebuke.

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

A Fierce Faith

1 Samuel 17

God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. The story of David and Goliath is the story of a fierce faith that conquers not only fear, but also an enemy of such gigantic proportions that he seems impossible to defeat. So let me ask you again, what is the goliath in your life? Do you believe that God is bigger?

Two men have the same problem. A giant of a man, an overpowered killing machine, a fierce warrior named Goliath. Saul, seeing only the man, looking only at his circumstances, considering only the outward appearance of things is dismayed and greatly afraid. He relied on his armor and his abilities, his natural strength and charisma to face his problems. But when the problem was bigger and stronger and fiercer and scarier than him, he was paralyzed with fear. It’s easy to be like Saul. Just look at your circumstances, see life from a pedestrian vantage point, live life in your own strength and eventually your goliath will come and stop you in your tracks.

David reminds us what it means to be a “man after God’s own heart”…a man who is brave and bold…a man of faith and conviction…a man willing to step onto the battlefield and face down his enemies, who knows that the battle belongs to the LORD, and who is trusting in Him to fight for him and with him. A man who looks not at the outward appearance of things…whatever the circumstances…but who sees the world from God’s perspective. A man of fierce faith.

So Dad’s, what does it look like to have a fierce faith? Let me give you a few thoughts. First, it involves spending time in the Word, time in prayer, time with other men…remembering who God is. David was able to be such a man because he knew the LORD. Not just as a passing acquaintance. But he had been to battle with Him before. David had spent time with Him and tested Him. Unlike Saul, David hadn’t forgotten who God is. Second, it’s shepherding your family well, providing for them, protecting and serving them. Leading them and guiding them. Nurturing them. Fighting for them. You see a fierce faith isn’t just for you…but according to Deuteronomy 6, it’s for you to pass on to your sons. To do that, you have to teach it to them and model it for them. But you can you can only do that if you have a fierce faith yourself. Finally, it’s acknowledging that sometimes life is hard, and also acknowledging that God is greater. And Dad’s for those of you who are here today let me just tell you that I’m proud of you. For many men it’s not easy going to church. But by being here today you’re showing your family what it looks like to follow Jesus in the day to day. Sometimes in our walk with God we just need to show up. 

As we end today I want to ask you one last question. Do you know the LORD? Years later One of David’s descendants, Jesus, will face down an even greater enemy, Satan, and having secured victory through His own death on a cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus gives the spoils of His triumph to those of us who believe…forgiveness of sins, life eternal, a kingdom. Do you know the LORD?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Father’s Day sermon. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Stephen’s Arrest

Acts 6.8-15

Stephen returns to his old neighborhood to share the good news of hope that he has found in Jesus. He wants the folks closest to him to experience the same life-transformation he has. Jesus changes everything. And although the Spirit is powerfully at work through him performing great wonders and signs to confirm his testimony, what should be received as good news indeed is met with hostility.

Welcome to the dangerous world of living for Jesus. The more brightly your light shines, the more energetically the enemy will attempt to put it out. So how then should we live? In fear, shrinking back? No. Courageously storming the gates of hell. Stephen didn’t back down. Neither did the Apostles. They knew they were serving a King and a kingdom worth dying for. So do we. But not only is our King worth dying for, He’s also worth living for.

Are you living for your King? Yeah, you are. But are you living for the true King…are you living for Jesus? Or are you living for a pretender? Where do your allegiances lie? Who/what are you serving? Who do you adore? You see, unless you love God more…more than anyone else or anything else…you won’t live for Him. And if you won’t live for Him, you certainly won’t die for Him.

So if you want to live for your King…if you want to love Him more…you have to be intentional about your pursuit of Him. You have to cultivate your love…time spent with Him will do that. Time in His Word…time in prayer…time with His people. Time in His Word…every day. Time in prayer…every day. Time with His people…as often as you can. And remember it’s not something that you can do on your own…but He has given you His Spirit to strengthen and encourage you, to lead and to guide you, to transform you to live and love like Jesus.

If today were your last day, would you be ready? Jesus will either be your King or your Judge? When your time comes, there are no do-overs, no second chances…the question is not whether or not we will die, or when or how we will die, but if we are ready to die. Are you ready?

A little over a hundred years before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, John Huss was preaching key reformation ideals. He would be martyred for his devotion to the Bible over the traditions of the church. Just moments before his death, he was asked by the imperial marshal one final time to recant and save his life. John responded “God is my witness that…the principal intention of my preaching…and all my other acts or writings are solely that I might turn people from sin. And in that truth of the gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willingly glad to die today.”

It’s better to burn out than fade away…

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

Seven Chosen to Serve

Acts 6.1-7

The Apostles turn a potentially divisive problem into a ministry solution and increase their reach by raising up leaders within the church.

Jesus prayed for the unity of the church on that last evening in the upper room with His disciples (John 17.20-21). He said that all the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13.35). Too often, I’m afraid, it’s not our unity and love we’re known for. Too often the prejudices and divisiveness, the selfishness and self-serving attitude of the outside world infects the church. We are too easily offended and too quick to assume the worst in others. Grumbling and complaining is our default. It shouldn’t be that way.

How should we respond when crisis happens or we feel like our needs (not our wants) are being overlooked? First of all, don’t assume it’s intentional. The Apostles didn’t intentionally overlook the Hellenistic Jewish widows, and don’t assume that leadership in your church is intentionally overlooking or ignoring the needs of folks within the body. Doesn’t mean that they can respond to every want, but I’m sure they do their best to cover the needs that they are aware of.

Second, be part of the solution. Select from among yourselves seven…not just any seven, but seven who were spiritually mature and had the skill set to help. Maybe you are the person to step in and help. Maybe you know the person who should. But instead of being a grumbler…instead of throwing rocks…do something to help out. How can you be a part of the solution?

Third, keep the main thing the main thing. We have a real enemy who doesn’t want to see us succeed…as individuals or as a body of believers. As Mike Harris often says, “He’s not going to give us a free pass.” He prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Unfortunately in our successes we often sow the seeds of defeat. We let our guard down. The busyness of life that success often brings crowds out our devotional time with the Lord. Instead of focusing on time in the Word and time in prayer, we have too much to do. And that’s when the lion pounces.

Finally, celebrate the win. Often times we can move from task to task and not celebrate and thank God for the victories and wins He has given us. And what is the win?  Transforming families to live and love like Jesus. When we come together to solve problems and meet needs we reflect the unity that Jesus calls us to. And we show love in the process. There is plenty of hatred in the world…plenty of prejudice and divisiveness…plenty of me-ism. Let’s not let it affect our church.

Until next time…let’s pray.

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