Victory in Jesus

Romans 8.28-39

Confidence in the right thing makes all the difference. For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our confidence is in exactly the right place. Not in ourselves or in anything that we’ve done, but in Jesus and all that He’s done on our behalf. From beginning to end, our salvation is secured.

Paul wants us to be encouraged…what God has started, even before the foundation of the world, He will bring to completion. If we have trusted in Jesus, we can be assured that one day we will reign with Him in His kingdom.

No doubt suffering will come…everyone who walks this planet has suffered, is suffering or will suffer. Guaranteed. But the difference is this…for those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our suffering is not wasted. God is using it to make us more like Jesus. And not only is our suffering not wasted, but in the midst of our suffering, we never have to doubt God’s love for us. The Spirit is constantly interceding for us (along with Jesus) and is pouring out God’s love within our hearts.

pro rege

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

The Glory to Come

Romans 8.18-27

In this in-between time, this already/not yet time that we live in, we eagerly await the glory to come. And as we do, whether in good times or in bad, we have the Spirit who not only empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body, but who is also praying for us in the midst of our waiting…our groaning and suffering. He is battling on our behalf. And He will see us through to glory.

Suffering before glory…it’s the reality of the world that we live in today. It’s true for us as believers, but it’s also true for all of creation. The world as it is is not what God originally intended. It’s under the curse, waiting eagerly as are we, the revelation of God’s glory and the redemption that is to come.

So while we wait, we pray. We share our stories. We share the hope that we have. You see, though we groan…in our suffering, we have a hope that this world cannot offer. A hope that the Hero has already won the day and that one day we will reign with Him. A hope that we must share…we must share… with a lost a dying world. And while sharing that hope, we minister to those around us who are in need. We point them to Jesus.

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

Living Generously

Ephesians 4.1-16

We all have a part to play when it comes to preserving unity. Not just some of us…all of us. But within this unity there is diversity. We have all been given gifts for the mutual building up of the body, the Church. Gifted leaders equipping the saints for works of service… Each of us has to do our part.

This passage always reminds me of when Jack and I decided to try tae kwon do. The first day we entered the dojo aka YMCA, it was clear that the goal was for us to be black belts. Even though there were a number of them present, the sensei didn’t consider his job done until we all crossed the finished line and mastered the art. The idea in this passage is very similar…it’s not about one of us making it to maturity. It’s a group project. The job’s not done until we all attain to the unity of the faith… 

If you have trusted in Jesus, He has given you a spiritual gift. A gift that He expects that you will use to build up His body. Every gift is unique…even the same gift is given in differing measures. But each gift is needed for the body to function properly, and each gift is needed to be exercised to its full measure for the body to grow. Each of us is called to be a steward…not only of our resources, but also of the spiritual gifts that God has given us. Reminds me of the parable of the talents. Not everyone got the same number to start with, but each was expected to invest what they were given in the kingdom. So are we.

Being equipped for works of service is not just so that we can serve each other, although that is super important. But part of building up the body is bringing in folks who once were lost but now have been found. Let me suggest that maybe, just maybe, our primary ministry is outside the walls of the church building. It’s in the marketplace and in the schoolyard. It’s with our families and our friends. It’s when we walk outside these doors. And maybe our coming together as a church is like going to the gym. You come here to train…to prepare for the fight, to get ready for the big race. And after doing your bag work, the speed and agility drills, maybe a little foot work…once you walk out those doors, ministry starts. All of life is ministry. Opportunities abound to share our story and to introduce folks to Jesus.

So let me challenge you with two last words…first, if you are not using your spiritual gifts in some way to build up the church and serve others, we need you. We have provided a tool on our website (centralchristian.org) called SHAPE to help you discover not only your spiritual gifts, but also to help you identify areas that are a good fit you in serving.

Second, if you are not yet a part of a community group, let me encourage you to join one. CGs are one of the best ways to use your gifts and build one another up.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Sharing Your Story

Luke 8.26-39

Having just calmed a violent storm at sea, Jesus meets a man with an equally violent storm raging within him. In both cases Jesus is able to squash the chaos with a word. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Luke is showcasing Jesus’ power and authority over both the natural and supernatural worlds. And he does that, but I think Luke is driving us to something even more powerful…you see, beyond the power of Jesus is the love of Jesus. Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea and faces down the forces of hell for one man! Did you get that? Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea and faces down the forces of hell for one man! O what a Savior! And having rescued him, He sends him on a mission to share his story – of “what great things God had done for him.”

I love this story. It’s a beautiful picture of the lengths that Jesus goes to to seek and save the lost…

Crossed the sea (calmed the storm, etc.)

Faced off with the hosts of hell

Braved the potential backlash of a frightened mob

For one man

Jesus is still on a rescue mission, pulling folks out of the fires of hell. Setting the captives free. And as those who have been set free, He calls us to join Him in that same mission. To share our story…of what great things Jesus has done for us.

Though we may not have been as bad off as the demoniac in this story, before Jesus we were all just as lost. We were all held captive in the kingdom of darkness. We were all without hope and in desperate need of rescue. And only Jesus could do that.

So what is your story, and who can you share it with? Jesus sent the man back to his home town to share with those closest to him what God had done for him. Sounds a lot like our impact list…those folks who are closest to us who don’t know Jesus. Could be friends or family, neighbors, co-workers, classmates or teammates. If you have trusted in Jesus, then you have a story to tell.

And as I think back over my own story, I’m reminded…Jesus changes everything. He wants to change everything in our lives if we will let Him. But we have to be intentional about pursuing Him. We have to make the choice…training, not trying. Quality time in His Word everyday aka Daily Devotion. Praying throughout the day aka Consistent Prayer. And time with other believers as often as possible aka Intentional Community. And when we do that we find that He’s been pursuing us all along…the Good Shepherd looking for the one lost sheep.

Let me challenge you with two last words…first, take time this week to write out your story. On our website you can find a template that will walk you through putting together Your Story. Take your time…don’t rush. Pray over it and ask God to direct you through the process.

Second, prayerfully consider who you need to share your story with. Who do you know that hasn’t yet trusted in Jesus? Pray for opportunities and ask God for courage in the moment to take advantage of those opportunities when they come.

pro rege,

This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Consistent Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 reminds us of who God is. So when we come to Him in prayer, we can thank Him for taking care of us…leading and guiding us, directing us, providing for our needs, protecting us, His presence with us.

We can have confidence in our everyday life with God when it sinks in that He really is for us. No matter what our circumstances may be…no matter what our enemies may say…God is greater. He is greater than anyone or anything. So if we really believe that…if we really believe that God is greater, if we believe that He is committed to our good, if we believe that He is pursuing us and that He is fierce in His love for us…like Paul says in Romans 8…that nothing can separate us from His love, we too can face the darkest valleys with unflinching courage knowing that our Shepherd is there with us. In fact He’s gone before us and is showing us the way if we will only follow… And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? That is our confidence in prayer.

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 walking in the mornings (because the gym’s closed), 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. I like what a guy named William Law said about it…“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? What an 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 neighbor…face-to-face, on the phone, by text, or even by zoom…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, our Shepherd 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 DVM…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 is leading us through the darkest valleys, never leaving us alone, but seeing us through to green pastures and quiet waters. And as Paul says in Romans 8, somehow and in someway He’s working it together for our good.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God for? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they’re the same questions I’ve asked at some point on my spiritual journey. I do think the things we ask God for are important, but primarily for this reason…they reveal 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 transform us to live and love 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 consistent time spent in prayer just talking to your Father. Both that and time spent in His Word…

Two last words…first, while personal time in prayer is super important, pro tip…time in prayer with other believers leads to even greater gains. It’s in prayer that we can lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice and weep together…share our hopes and dreams, doubts and fears with each other. A community group or small group is a great avenue for that.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is another great way to lead your families. Maybe share prayer requests/concerns/praises at the dinner table. Spend some time praying for each other. Doesn’t have to be long. Find time to pray with your wife. Fiercely pursue and protect the oneness that God calls you to as a couple.

(A couple of resources that you might find helpful…ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), prayer guides on YouVersion/bible.com, Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer (praying scripture), Psalms as prayers.)

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube 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 quality time in God’s Word every day, 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. But if you skip going to the gym for a time, or running or riding your bike, or whatever your exercise of choice, you will quickly find out 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. I think we’ve all experienced those things over the last several months in lockdown. If we don’t use it, we lose it. The same is true spiritually…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.

So, if you suspect that might be you…that you might be a spiritual “infant”…how do you begin your path to maturity? 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. So take the long view. Try, fail, try again, fail better, and repeat…

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.

Two last words, both are applicable to every one of the five marks of a disciple…first, while personal time in the Word is super important, pro tip…time in the Word with other believers leads to even greater gains. The Bible was written to a community of believers and that’s how it’s best understood and applied. If you are not a part of a community group but would like to be, we have a number of groups starting this fall. You can connect right now through the online chat on our website. Just go to centralchristian.org and click on the chat box near the bottom of the page and you’ll be connected to a host right away.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is a great opportunity for you to begin to lead your families. Share with your wife and your kids what God is teaching you through His Word, and encourage them to do the same. Maybe read a Proverb a day together…

Let’s press on to maturity then, spending quality time daily 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 UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Living by the Spirit

Romans 8.1-17

In the war against sin, we have been given an Ally who is truly OP (over-powered), as my son would say. The Spirit who is life and peace, puts to death the deeds of our body when we rely on Him. The Spirit also testifies to our spirit that we belong to God. That we have been adopted into His family. That we are sons and daughters of the King.

If you have trusted in Jesus, choose to live your identity in Him. So much is true about you…Forgiven. Justified. Righteous. Alive (eternal life). Reconciled. At peace with God. Free from the rule of sin. New heart. Spirit living within. Adopted into God’s family. Co-heir with Jesus. What would it look like to live your life based on those truths? How would it change your outlook on things? Your day-to-day interactions (social media)? What if every morning you reminded yourself of who you are…before your first cup of coffee, or checking your social media accounts, or catching up on the latest news…before you interact with your spouse or your kids (or your parents) or with folks at work or school? What if you reminded yourself of you are before you post or comment or forward…how might that change things for you and those around you? How might your life and your relationships look different? How might it impact the choices you make?

But you have to make the conscious choice. You have to choose to live out the reality of being “in Jesus”. You have to train yourself…discipline yourself…to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to sin. The good news is…you are not alone. You have the best Partner ever…the Spirit. Why not try it today?

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

The Battle Within

Romans 7.14-25

A battle rages within every believer…a battle between the law of God and the law of sin, a battle between the mind/heart and the body, a battle between who I am and who I used to be. And though we wish it were otherwise, while we live in the already/not yet…in the in-between time of who we are ontologically and who we are experientially, the battle continues.

Some might be tempted to simply give up or give in. I mean, what’s the point? If I’m already saved, and it’s going to be this ongoing struggle to follow Jesus, maybe I should give in to sin. Just live life the way I used to live it. It’ll be easier that way. Paul has already addressed that…you are a slave of the one you obey.

Grace doesn’t mean that we’ve been saved from obedience. No, we’ve been saved for obedience. We don’t do good works to be made right with God…we do good works because we are right with Him. Grace simply gives us the ability to do what we couldn’t do on our own…obey God.

It strikes me in Romans 6 that the believer who is a slave of sin has chosen that route. They volunteered to be enslaved. As ridiculous as it may sound they have picked sin as their master even though they know that all he can and will offer them is death. In Romans 7 the believer who is a prisoner is being held against his/her will. They are actively involved in the battle against sin in their own lives. They are pursuing Jesus, and though they may fail, they continue to get up and fight on.

And while the distinction between slave and prisoner may not seem to be a big one, I believe it has huge implications for our spiritual walk. When I present myself to sin and allow it to become my master, then like the seed among the weeds in Jesus’ parable of the soils, the Word becomes choked by worries and riches and pleasures of this life and brings no fruit to maturity. But when I continue the fight against sin…sometimes winning and sometimes losing, but always fighting on, then like the seed in the good soil, the Word falls on a generous and good heart that holds it fast and bears fruit with perseverance.

The good news that Paul will talk about more in Romans 8…we are not alone in the struggle. We have been given the Spirit who helps us in our weakness when we rely on Him. And not only that, but when we have fellow believers who we are pursuing Jesus together with, they can be a source of encouragement and strength for us in the fight. We weren’t made to walk this path alone.

pro rege,

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

Joined to Jesus

Romans 7.1-13

We who are “in Jesus” have been set free from the Law in two ways…first from any attempt on our own to be justified before God (those trying to do good), and second from a rebellious heart set off by any “thou shalt not” (those not specifically trying to do good). We have been set free from the Law because we have been joined to Jesus. We are justified before God, and we’ve been given the Spirit and a new heart with the Law written on it.

Once again Paul presents two paths…one in which we bear fruit for God and the other in which we bear fruit for death. Which one best describes you?

If you have trusted in Jesus you have been set free from your old way of life. So why continue in it? Why not choose differently?

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

Who Will You Serve?

Romans 6.15-23

We all serve someone. We all have a master. Either sin or obedience. We are either running away from God, or running toward God. There is no neutral. No third option. “In Adam” the choice is made for us, and it’s the one we would choose anyway…the one we have chosen. And that’s sin. But “in Jesus” we have a decision to make…a master to choose. Will we choose obedience in following Jesus, or will we choose to enslave ourselves once again to our old master, sin?

Jesus used a similar analogy in Matthew 6.24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Joshua said it this way, “If it disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24.15)

Who will you serve? Maybe you didn’t know you had a choice. You simply defaulted to what you have always chosen in the past. Unwittingly you’ve enslaved yourself again to sin. You find yourself living the same life you did before you trusted in Jesus, but now you just feel guilty about it. That’s assuming of course that you’ve trusted in Jesus. The good news is you don’t have to keep making that same choice. If you are “in Jesus”…if you’ve trusted in Him, then you don’t have to live like you’re “in Adam” any longer.

If that’s you, you might say… “that sounds good, but how?” Last time we said there were some things to know, to reckon, and then to act on. It’s starts with knowing…that’s what we’ve tackled today. The knowing part. The Truth. The truth is…you are not who you used to be so you should not live like you used to live. You are “in Jesus” which means that you have a new King and that you live for a new kingdom. Therefore you no longer have to pursue the same lifestyle or make the same bad choices. You can choose to follow Jesus in the moment.

Knowing that truth, you then have to reckon it as true for you. Sometimes this is where the heavy lifting comes in. You may have to unwind some faulty thinking. You might have to unlearn some bad habits, or better yet learn some good ones. You may have to let go of some lies that you’ve held onto about yourself for way too long.

Reckoning on that truth, then you just have to act on it. This takes practice. Like anything in life we want to excel at, it takes training. Try and fail, and try again and fail better, and repeat until…success. I catch myself saying foolish things often enough to my wife. But I’ve learned over the years to at least recognize it and ask forgiveness. The time between those two has gotten shorter, and my goal is to someday be able to catch myself before saying the foolish thing. What encourages me is that it doesn’t just depend on my efforts, but I’ve been given the Spirit to empower me to make the right choices.

Choose to follow Jesus. Say no to sin and yes to what God is calling you. Obedience starts with knowing what God has said. That’s in His Word. Are you spending time in His Word on a daily basis? Are you spending time with Him in prayer? Are you spending time with other believers? Sharing your story? Living generously?

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