Acceptance and Opposition: Lystra

Acts 14.8-20a

Paul’s visit to the little town of Lystra didn’t go quite the way he had planned. The healing of a lame man which should have opened a door for the gospel and pointed folks to Jesus instead causes them to want to worship Paul and Barnabas. And just when that seems to be under control, a group of zealous, unbelieving Jews shows up to put an end to Paul once and for all.

I love the “success” stories that we’ve seen so far in the book of Acts…where thousands of folks come to faith in Jerusalem and in Samaria, the conversion of Cornelius and also of Saul/Paul, Peter’s rescue from the clutches of Herod and Paul’s triumph over the false prophet Bar-Jesus, the church in Antioch and the Gentiles who have come to faith along the way.

The successes are great…Jesus had lots of those too. But there was also opposition and persecution. Just as we said last week…while we may wish it were otherwise, that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject.

There will always be opposition to the gospel. We have a real enemy who doesn’t like us storming his gates, and he will do anything and everything in his power to thwart our attempts to rescue folks held captive under his dominion. Sometimes folks will misinterpret and misunderstand us, and sometimes they will violently oppose us. Either way, let’s not give up.

Ours is a society that is quickly losing its biblical moorings…no longer can we assume that folks have even a rudimentary knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Unfortunately that’s not just out there…many folks within the church are far from having a biblical worldview. Most are more influenced by the anti-Christian, anti-God culture that surrounds us than they are by God’s Word. We may be too sophisticated to worship Zeus and Hermes, but we do worship our idols nonetheless…

It makes sharing our faith challenging. It makes living a Christian life challenging. There are lots of obstacles in the way, but it shouldn’t stop us. It shouldn’t cause us to give up and go home. Instead it should cause us to rely more fully on the Spirit, to cling more desperately to Jesus. To get up and press on…to get back in the game.

If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, make today the day. Make today the day you turn from vain and worthless things to the living God who not only created the heavens and the earth, but who also made you as well. Who loves you and wants to adopt you into His family. The God who loved you so much that He sent His one and only Son Jesus to die a sacrificial death for you so that by believing in Him your sins could be forgiven, and who raised Him the third day so that you too might have eternal life.

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

Acceptance and Opposition: Iconium

Acts 14.1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Persecutor to Preacher

Acts 9.19.b-31

Saul goes from being a persecutor to a preacher. Jesus has changed everything. He has passed from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…his sins have been forgiven and his destiny will never be the same. Good news, right? Right?

And yet for Saul the good news is met with disdain by his one-time-friends turned enemies and doubt by his one-time-enemies turned friends. Except for Barnabas. He recognizes Saul’s sincere belief and welcomes him into the fold.

Saul is excited about his new-found faith. He can’t wait to tell others about Jesus. That’s a good thing. His excitement is not quenched even when met with hostility and the threat of death. Still he will preach the gospel and face whatever trial may come. Saul’s time alone with the Lord…in His Word and in prayer…fuels his fire and prepares him for what inevitably will come.

Are you like Saul, maybe new to the faith, excited about the road ahead, anticipating the impact that you will have for the kingdom? Realize that challenges will come. Some of those challenges will come from unbelieving friends who feel like you’ve walked away from them. Some of those challenges will come from other believers who can’t believe you trusted in Jesus. Take courage. Either way, you have to be faithful to what God has called you to do…tell people about Jesus…share your story. Spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer and time fellowshipping with other believers, allowing your faith to grow and deepen and mature. And be patient. Saul’s greatest impact will come years later…

Are you like Barnabas, an encourager who comes alongside, a welcomer-in of those on the fringes? Some definitely have the gift of encouragement…you know who you are and so do the folks who know you well. Keep doing it. We need you. But I think all of us can be a Barnabas to an extent. All of us can come alongside another. You see, discipleship is not just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. God never intended us to walk the path alone. We need each other. Paul uses both the analogy of a body and of a house to describe our interconnectedness…our interdependence on one another. The person you may be encouraging may be the one God wants to use to turn this world upside down. Like Saul.

Maybe you haven’t yet had an encounter with Jesus. Maybe you think you are too far gone to be saved. You’re not. Saul wasn’t. Neither are you. God wants to work a miracle in your life…to bring you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son…to give your life purpose and meaning and to use you to impact the lives of those around you for His kingdom. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

For the rest of us, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What impact will you have on the kingdom?

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