The Joy of Suffering

James 1.1-11

Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials. That’s only possible when we see things from God’s perspective…when we realize that God is using these trials to grow us, change us, transform us to live and love like Jesus.

The trials that we endure are designed to purify and strengthen our faith, not destroy it. But that assumes that we are running toward God and not away from Him in the midst of the trial. And that takes wisdom. Wisdom to see God’s hand at work through it all. Wisdom to realize my need for Him. Wisdom to place my confidence in Him. Wisdom to take my eyes off my feet and lift them up to see the world around me.

The alternative to running toward God in trials…running away from Him can have a devastating impact on our faith. I think we all know folks who, when tragedy struck, chose to blame God and run away from Him. Faith is crippled if not shattered. There is no joy there. And some of you know that all too well.

Trusting God fully…putting our confidence in Him…and not in anything else. That’s the key to success. That’s the path that leads to joy no matter the trial. And if you are lacking the wisdom to see that, just ask God for it. He will be glad to give it to you.

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This post is based on a sermon from our James series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

All In: The Joy of Giving

1 Chronicles 29.1-20

Giving…generosity…is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. I have said it a few times…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, share your story at every opportunity, 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.

If giving is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” 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.

So let me challenge you to be all in and give giving a try in 2023. Pick an amount and begin to give regularly. Set a goal and work towards it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. I think you’ll find that giving actually helps you release your death grip on the stuff that you are holding on to so tightly and experience the joy of seeing kingdom impact.

I said it before, but it’s worth repeating…when we give, God is more concerned about the “why” than the “what”. He looks at the heart. And it’s only when we give with a thankful heart, an upright heart, a willing heart…one that is turned towards Him…that we will know the absolute joy and gift that giving is.

And for those of you for whom giving is a discipline that you’ve practiced for awhile, thank you for your faithfulness.

Remember, everything we have comes from the LORD. We have simply been entrusted with it for a short time. So whether it’s a little like the widow or much like King David, let’s be generous givers!

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This post is based on a sermon from our All In series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

All In: 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. 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.

Where to start reading? Check out the Central app. We have a reading plan already set up that will take you through the NT this year. But if you want to strike out on your own…well, 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. 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…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 small group but would like to be, we have a number of groups available. Just click on the small groups icon in the Central app, and Jared and his team will help you find the group that’s right for you.

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, making time in God’s Word a daily practice, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we can more and more live and love like Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our All In series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

Love This Christmas

1 Peter 1.22-25

Love is the greatest gift we can give and receive This Christmas.

For some of you, Love This Christmas starts with realizing God’s love for you. Faith comes before obedience. God has gone to the greatest links to prove His love for us by sending His Son Jesus to die for our sins. He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death on our behalf, and was raised the third day, so that by believing in Him we could have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, becoming a son or daughter of the King, having a living hope and inexpressible joy. [Trust]

For others of you, Love This Christmas starts with loving God more. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14.15). Obedience is active love. It’s the way we show our love for God and for others. If we believe that not only is God all-powerful and all-knowing, but that He also loves us in a way that only He can and that He desires our good, then we are fools when we refuse to obey. Obedience means doing what God says, but we can only do what He says if we know what He says. In other words, it’s impossible to obey if I don’t know what to obey. So how do we know what God wants us to do? You guessed it. Time spent in His Word. Time spent in prayer. Time with other believers. Learning, listening, dialoguing. No other way around it. But knowing’s not enough. I also have to apply what I’m learning. I have to do it. Good news…you don’t have to forge ahead on your own. The Spirit is the One who transforms us to live and love like Jesus…He’s the One who gives us the ability to do what God says to do. [Trust and obey]

For the rest, Love This Christmas continues with fervently loving one another from the heart. Loving others in active and practical ways is a natural consequence of obedience…a predictable outcome. What is the greatest commandment? Love God with all that we are and love our neighbor as ourself.

If other folks loved God the way you love God, and if they loved others the way you do, how would the world be different? If you practiced actively loving others this week, how would that impact your marriage? Your family? Your other relationships? What would that look like?

May we fervently love one another from the heart this Christmas season!

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series: This Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

Joy This Christmas

1 Peter 1.6-9

We can experience inexpressible joy even in the midst of trials when we see our lives from a kingdom perspective…because we have a living hope and an imperishable inheritance that is protected by God.

Everyone who walks this planet will suffer…guaranteed. It’s part of living in a fallen world. Death. Loss. Broken relationships. Disappointment. You name it. Some of that suffering is due to our own bad choices. Some of it’s due to the bad choices of others. Some of it’s a result of the fall. But everybody will suffer in some way at some time. But not all will suffer for their faith.

The picture that Jesus frequently uses for discipleship…for following Him…is taking up our cross. It’s a clear picture of suffering. Now why does suffering have to be a part of the deal? I mean if we’ve chosen to follow God, if we’ve been adopted into His family, if we’re kingdom citizens, then why doesn’t He keep us from suffering? If we are on the winning side, then why does it feel like we’re losing? It goes back to the fall…

When we rebelled against our Creator, it had a devastating effect not only on us but also on the good world that God had made. The benevolent rule that man was supposed to exercise over creation was forfeited to the enemy (Luke 4.6), who subsequently became “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4.4) , “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2.2). Before we trusted in Jesus, we were “sons (and daughters) of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2), citizens of this world thoroughly committed to life in the kingdom of darkness.

When we trusted in Jesus another rebellion occurred, but this one was really a return. And while it is true that we are citizens of a new kingdom and children of God, we are still living in enemy territory. Because our allegiance has changed, we are at odds with the world around us. The more we look like Jesus…the more we live as kingdom citizens…the more at odds we will be. The more at odds, the more suffering. The more suffering, the more rejoicing. Why can we rejoice? Because our faith has been purified and strengthened. Because we know that our salvation is sure. Because we are becoming more like Jesus.

The counterfeit joy that this world offers is based on avoiding unpleasantness of any kind…forget about suffering. It’s a joy that is hollow, self-seeking and fleeting. It disappears when the storms of life come. Unfortunately that’s the only joy that many of us pursue. But true joy…inexpressible joy…comes only from following Jesus, taking up our cross and being willing to suffer with Him. Seems like an odd way to find joy…especially an inexpressible joy…but there it is. That kind of joy is independent of circumstance…good or bad, suffering or rejoicing…it remains unshaken.

It’s not that suffering in and of itself brings joy, but it’s our identification with Jesus…it’s the family resemblance. Suffering for my faith is the only suffering that I have some control over…I can avoid it by not living out my faith or I can embrace it when it comes while pursuing Jesus. The choice is up to you and me.

So what if I’m not distressed by various trials? What if I’m not suffering persecution of any kind for my faith? First question would be, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you…the day that you are adopted into God’s family…a living hope, an imperishable inheritance, and an inexpressible joy can all be yours. You just have to recognize that you are a sinner in need of repentance, believe that Jesus can save you and trust Him to do so.

If you have trusted in Jesus, then is it obvious to those around you? Does your life look any different than theirs? Actions…attitudes…language? Is there anything that would distinguish you from them? If the answer is “yes.” Then keep living out your faith. Trials will come…they may look different for you than for me…but they will come because we live in enemy territory. But if the answer is “no,” there’s a good chance that the folks around you are not mistaking you for being a Christian. You see, if you are living according to this world’s standards and behaving like everyone else…why would you be persecuted? But make no mistake…you will not experience the inexpressible joy that Peter is describing…only the counterfeit joy that disappears when hard times come.

This Christmas season I pray that you will experience the inexpressible joy that only Jesus can bring…the joy of knowing that He, your King is coming, the joy of knowing your salvation is secure, the joy of knowing Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series: This Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

Hope This Christmas

1 Peter1.3-5

If you have trusted in Jesus, you have new life and a living hope because of His resurrection from the dead, and you have an inheritance reserved in heaven for you that is permanent, protected by God and beyond this present world’s reach.  

There are lots of things we “hope” for in this life….some good and some not so good. As I thought about my own life, I realized how often I set my hope on people or events that only disappoint…they can’t carry the weight of my hope. They weren’t designed for that. I’m too busy trying to create the perfect life here, refusing to admit that the world in its current state is destined for destruction. This world and the things of it are doomed to disappear…yet I sometimes find myself clinging to it as if my life depended on it. The only One who can carry the weight of my hope is Jesus. He’s the only One who will not disappoint. My hope is the resurrection…it’s the kingdom life that is available now and lasts into eternity. It’s true peace, joy and love. Not the counterfeit version that this world offers. I am a sojourner here.

Where is your hope this Christmas? Who are you hoping in? Is your hope big enough to carry you through the storms of life, the disappointments and frustrations, the trials and the suffering? Is your confidence in people or things that are destined to disappoint? Hope placed in anyone or anything other than Jesus will disappoint…it will fail. Why? Because hope based anywhere but in Him is based on things that are fleeting and subject to decay…where thieves break in and steal or moth and rust destroys… Only a hope in Jesus is a living hope…living because He is alive and gives life to those who trust in Him. So while we mourn the disappointments in life, we can also choose to worship God in the knowledge that He will never disappoint us. That’s why we never need despair.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, make today the day. It’s as simple as admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Believing that Jesus came to save you from your sin. He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death on your behalf, and was raised the third day, so that you might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life…a living hope and an imperishable inheritance.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series: This Christmas. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

A New Heaven and a New Earth

2 Peter 3.10-18

Peter finishes with a final warning and encouragement for us to avoid the false teachers and stay on Torah Road…knowing that judgment is sure and Jesus will soon return. We are to live with the end in mind.

We don’t often talk about judgment when it comes to believers. We focus on whether or not we’re “in”, and pursuing Jesus is a good idea if you want to live the abundant life today. We can make it sound like a good but optional idea. But throughout both the OT and NT, there is a common refrain…each man will be judged according to what he has done, whether good or evil.

Now let’s be clear…when you trusted in Jesus, your sins were forgiven, you experienced peace with God, you were adopted into His family, you received the Spirit, you became a kingdom citizen…all the things that Paul talks about in Romans are true of you. You’re a new creation. You’re not who you used to be. When it comes to sin, Jesus paid the penalty for everyone of them. He satisfied God’s wrath.

But that doesn’t mean that you will not have to give an account for how you lived your life as a believer. Luke 19. You’ve been entrusted with a mina. And when the King returns He’s going to ask you how you invested it and what’s His return on your investment. Paul talks about our works being tested by fire. We will have to stand before our King one day, so what you do today matters.

We’ve talked a lot about Torah Road in 2 Peter and the importance of staying on it. But what if I’ve fallen off of it? What do I do if I am experiencing the “living death” of having my righteous soul tormented because of the lifestyle I’m choosing to live that is clearly not what God would want for me? What do I do?

And the answer is…you need to get back on Torah Road. It starts like it did in the beginning. Turning away from known sin. That may be hard…especially if, as I said earlier, you’ve developed some bad habits or addictions that you were hoping would numb the pain of living a life contrary to your new nature. That’s where “we” come into the picture. The Christian life is not intended to be a solo gig. It’s not just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. We go together. We help each other, encourage each other, challenge each other, pray for each other, love each other. One of the best ways to do that is to get into a small group. Find some other believers to come alongside you.

We’ve been given everything we need to live the life that God calls us to…the Word and the Spirit and each other. God wants you to experience life to its fullest. He wants you to have a useful and fruitful life. It won’t be easy. It will be hard at times, but if you stay on Torah Road you can be confident you are right where God wants you to be. And what an entrance into the kingdom you have to look forward to!

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This post is based on a sermon from our 2 Peter series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

The Coming of the Day of the Lord

2 Peter 3.1-9

Despite the mocking mockers willful ignorance, judgment is coming. And Peter doesn’t want us as believers to be deceived and led astray from the life that the Lord desires for us…a life we will only experience as we stay on the Torah Road.

What you do today matters. Who you listen to matters. I’ve said that a lot in this series, I know. But it’s because Peter does. The danger is real. And the stakes are high. So heed Peter’s warning.

If not, don’t be surprised that the path that you’re now on does not lead to joy and peace. How can it? When you trusted in Jesus, the Spirit was given to you as a pledge, and you became a new creation. You’re not who you used to be. Which means now that you have the Spirit, you can’t enjoy sin any longer. You can’t pursue life as if you didn’t know Him. God loves you too much for that. And so He disciplines you. To bring you to repentance. And until that happens…until you return, you will feel your righteous soul tormented day after day by the lifestyle you’re choosing to live. You will be blind, short-sighted, forgetting your salvation. Not really living. It’s not a good place to be. God wants much more for us than that.

So if that’s you, what do you need to do? Making every effort, to your faith add moral excellence. And to your moral excellence, knowledge…then self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and finally love. That keeps you strong and keeps you from stumbling. Makes you fruitful and useful for the kingdom. And an abundant entrance awaits.

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This post is based on a sermon from our 2 Peter series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

Examples of the False Teachers

2 Peter 2.4-11

Peter gives us three examples of what awaits the false teachers. God rescued the godly and destroyed the wicked in the past, and He will do it again in the future. So don’t be fooled by the lies of the false teachers. Or a culture that promotes indulging the flesh in its lusts and that despises authority.

So why the delay? Why doesn’t God judge now? Because God’s patience is mercy. His patience leaves room for the wicked to repent and for the righteous who have stepped off of Torah Road to return. He’s provided a way for the wicked to escape…through Jesus. He has already paid the penalty for their sin…He has already bought them. But they have to receive what is freely offered.

It’s as simple as admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Believing that Jesus came to save you from your sin. He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death on your behalf, and was raised the third day, so that you might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life and might reign with Him forever.

If you are a believer who’s bought into the lie of the false teachers/this present world’s madness aka not walking the Torah Road, Peter is not trying to comfort you. He is warning you because the path that you’re now on does not lead to joy and peace. When you trusted in Jesus, the Spirit was given to you as a pledge, and you became a new creation. You’re not who you used to be. Which means now that you have the Spirit, you can’t enjoy sin any longer. And instead of facing it, unfortunately too many try to justify it while at the same time having to numb the pain that their sin is causing…their righteous soul being tormented. It’s not a good place to be. God wants much more for us than that.

So if that’s you, what do you need to do? Making every effort, to your faith add moral excellence. And to your moral excellence, knowledge…then self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and finally love. That keeps you strong and keeps you from stumbling. Makes you fruitful and useful for the kingdom. And an abundant entrance awaits. Motivated not by fear, but love.

What you do today matters. Who you choose to follow/listen to matters. Life or death. Blessing or curse. It’s your choice so choose wisely.

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This post is based on a sermon from our 2 Peter series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

The Rise of the False Teachers

2 Peter 2.1-3

Peter introduces the false teachers, who, like the false prophets of old, will arise in the church. Folks who are not believers, who sin with abandon, who are greedy, deceitful and exploiting, and who prey upon the spiritually weak. In other words, not the good guys.

And so believers have the option…listen to Peter or listen to the false teachers. To stay on Torah Road…the way of truth or be led away from it. A useful and fruitful life in which they never stumble leading to an abundant entrance into the kingdom, or a useless and unfruitful life, being blind or short sighted and forgetting their purification from their former sins. Option A or option B.

The choice seems obvious, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we choose life…shouldn’t we choose the blessing? Shouldn’t we choose Option A? Don’t we all want to hear, “Well done…”? So why don’t we do it? What keeps us from choosing Option A? Simple…“me”. If I pursue Option A, I have to give up stuff. I have to say, “no” to things I really don’t want to say no to, even though they bring nothing but heartache. Because I like to call the shots. I like being the main character in my story.

But one day we will have to give an account. Everyone one of us. Every knee will bow…whether willingly or unwillingly. Jesus will either be your King or your Judge, your Lord or your Master. What you do today matters.

Do you want to experience more grace and peace in your life…a more abundant life? You’ve been given everything necessary to live the kind of life that God calls you to live…the Spirit and the Word. Being informed by the Word and empowered by the Spirit you can be transformed to live and love more and more like Jesus. But you have to be intentional. It won’t just happen. You have to choose.

So choose life today.

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This post is based on a sermon from our 2 Peter series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.