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: Iconium

Acts 14.1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generous Giving

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

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

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

Spiritual infants might struggle with these questions/statements…

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

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

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

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

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

Gather

Hebrews 10.19-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Glorious Proclamation

Luke 1.26-38

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort in the Preparation

Isaiah 40.1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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