Paul’s First Sermon

Acts 13.13-43

Paul’s first sermon is a pretty straightforward presentation of the gospel. Jesus is the King that God promised would come from ancient times…the King who brings in the kingdom. By believing in Him, we can be rescued from sin and death and spend an eternity with Him.

That’s awesome news! I love Paul’s reminder…this is what God did. He promised, and He did it so we can trust Him in telling our story. We can trust that He is with us through the good and bad, the ups and downs, whatever storm may come our way, leading and guiding us, shaping and molding us, transforming us to live and love like Jesus.

It’s easy for the routine…the familiar…to keep us from seeing the bigger picture…what’s important…right in front of us. How many people go to the gym for years and look exactly the same? They have a routine, but not a goal…a bigger picture, so nothing changes. Not so unlike the Jews in Jerusalem, who got caught up in the routine and missed the bigger picture, Jesus!

How do we keep from missing Jesus? Well, for those of us who have believed, our gathering together on the weekend is part of that. It’s kind of like going to the gym…it’s only part of the exercise of our faith. What we do throughout the rest of the week matters…time in the Word, time in prayer, time with other believers…those are standard, part of keeping Jesus in front of us. But I think one of the biggest things that keeps us from missing Jesus are the interruptions…the unexpected phone calls or texts or visits…unplanned opportunities to be generous givers of our time, our resources and ourselves.

Many of you have been in the church for a while. Maybe you are here every week. You’ve heard the Word taught. You know about Jesus. You can rehearse the ancient stories. But have you believed in Him? You see, knowing about Him and knowing Him…believing in Him…are two different things. You’ve heard me often say, “Jesus changes everything.” If you’ve believed in Him, how has your life changed? What’s different now from what it was before?

Examine your heart…think about your life. Have you trusted in Jesus? Maybe you know about Him, but do you know Him? It’s the most important decision you will ever make. You see, for those of us who believe…we have forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection…a kingdom awaits us. But for those who refuse to believe, only judgment. Jesus is either your King or He will be your Judge. Why not acknowledge Him as King today?

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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

Render to Caesar

Luke 20:19-26

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Historians universally claim that these words from Jesus have been “the single most influential political statement ever made.” They have shaped western civilization. Both Peter (1 Peter 2.13-17) and Paul (Romans 13.1-7) expand on what Jesus said, giving “shape to the political world as we know it today.” Our responsibilities to God do not negate our civic duties, neither should our civic duties negate our responsibilities to God.

Jesus avoided the trap set by the pretenders by saying that we have a duty to both the state and to God. What Caesar claims is irrelevant unless it interferes with our duty to God. Jesus doesn’t tell us what to do when the two are in direct moral conflict. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s handling of Nebuchadnezzar’s injunction against prayer (Dan. 3) and Daniel’s handling of a similar edict by Darius (Dan. 6) are great examples of what to do when the two spheres collide. When the choice is between obeying God or obeying man, we have to choose to obey God (Acts 5.28-29). If you, as a Christian, are asked to do something immoral or something that violates the Word of God, you should say “no”, but then be prepared to face the consequences. Just like Daniel and his buddies. And just like Christian martyrs have done throughout the centuries. Don’t give up, don’t give in, Jesus wins.

Fundamentally the question is: where is our hope? Is our hope in this broken, fallen world, or in the kingdom that Jesus brings? Are we looking for a king to save us in this political circus, or are we looking for the King who has already saved us?

And as those who follow Jesus, how do we engage the culture? What does it mean to live and love like Jesus? What’s our responsibility? First and foremost we have to remember that Jesus is our only Hope and our King. So we don’t give up, we don’t give in because we know that Jesus wins. And knowing that…We as followers of Jesus are called to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). We are to be markedly law-abiding, even down to the traffic laws and paying taxes. Our obedience should be careful and prayerful…As Paul said to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, for prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). In this country we have been given the right to vote…to let our voice be heard. We should exercise that right…prayerfully and intelligently. God is sovereign…but He chooses to use us in the process of accomplishing His purposes.

But we also need to confess our pride and our sinful attitudes…conversations, statements and responses that have reflected more fear than faith, more of my kingdom than God’s kingdom.

In a few weeks, we will have a new president…whoever that is we are called to pray for them and submit to their authority. May not be easy to do, especially if your candidate is not elected. But we have to trust God’s sovereignty. He’s still in control. Just as He was when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went into the fiery furnace. Just as He was when Daniel went into the lions’ den. Just as He was when Jesus hung on a cross.

Jesus says we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Are we doing so? Even more importantly, are we giving to God the things that are God’s?

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Reclaimed Identity

Daniel 1

This opening story in the book of Daniel introduces us to two of the main themes of book…God is actively involved in the lives of His people no matter the location or circumstance, even if it’s in a place that is in total opposition to Him and His kingdom, and He will vindicate and prosper them if they remain faithful to Him—for He, and not the king, is Lord. He gave Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in an act of judgment, but He preserved the boys by giving them favor in the eyes of their captors, and by giving them gifts of wisdom and knowledge, insight and understanding.

Daniel and company are in a precarious situation that pressures them to compromise their faith. Yet they remain faithful, and God protects them and blesses them in a hostile environment, within the Babylonian political machine. The fantastic four then are models of how believers are to conduct themselves in a culture hostile to their faith.

For we too live in a culture that is hostile to faith in God…a culture that seeks to mold us into its worldview. It’s a culture where compromise is easy, but standing for what’ right is not. It’s costly…your job, your reputation, and in the not too distant future maybe even your life. How then should we live?

We should live a life of faith and confidence in the God who is actively involved in the lives of His people. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you’ trusted in Him, your identity has already been reclaimed. No matter what the world says about you or the names it calls you, no matter how much it attempts to mold you, you are a son or daughter of the King of the universe. Whatever your circumstance today, no matter how desperate the situation seems, God is still God. He is sovereign. He is in control, He reigns, He has a plan, He keeps His promises, He raises up kings and puts down kings, He empowers the faithful, He draws men to Himself, and He brings glory to Himself. And when we lay hold of that, when our faith is put to the test, we, like Daniel, will be able to remain calm and focused even in the most dire of situations. Rarely does God save us from the circumstances of life this side of the garden, but He does save us through them. God wants to use us in this broken world to be His ministers. He’s placed us in the job we’re in, the school we attend, and surrounded us with folks who don’t know Him, so that we can point them to Him.

If you don’t know this God today, Ha’elohim, the God, the one true God, my prayer for you today and throughout this series is that you will come to know Him, that you too might be reclaimed.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

The Big Reveal

Genesis 45

Both the boys and Jacob are stunned when they learn that Joseph is alive. But maybe even more stunning is the revelation of God’s work in the events of Joseph’s life. Seeing his circumstances from God’s perspective allows Joseph to properly interpret events and forgive his brothers. Looking back it’s easy to see God’s hand, but what about in the midst of his circumstances…as he was being beaten by his brothers or when he was in the bottom of the pit or when he was sold to the Ishmaelites or to Potiphar, what about when he was falsely accused and spends years in prison, what about when he was forgotten for two years…God’s plans for our good are not always simple and transparent. Often we are tempted to ask, why me? It’s easy to discern God’s will through miracles, signs & wonders, but not so much through ordinary events. As believers we can trust in God to bring about His good purpose despite what others intend. It was true for Joseph, and it’s true in our lives as well. There have been many times in my life that I’ve wondered at the path that God had me on, but looking back I see His fingerprints, guiding and directing my steps. Even in the seeming detours, the wilderness experiences, those were times of preparation for the next phase on the journey.

But what about you? Can you see God’s hand at work in your life? Do you believe that He can bring about His good purposes for you even in the midst of your current trial? It was important for the Israelites to understand that as they marched through the wilderness. It’s important for us to understand as well. Instead of chalking it up to luck or happenstance, we need to seek clarity on what God is up to. His plan often takes us through suffering…Romans 5…but it’s the fastest route to spiritual maturity. It’s the furnace of God’s love that purifies, tests and strengthens our faith, so that we begin to look for like Jesus. Suffering aligns us to Jesus more than anything else.

It struck me that there are two different paths taken to suffering in Joseph’s story. Joseph sees God’s fingerprints all over his circumstances and comes to the incredible conclusion that God is working good in spite of the evil intention of others. Jacob on the other hand, exclaims, “Everything is against me!” For Joseph, his suffering is making him more like Jesus. For Jacob, his suffering puts a pause on his spiritual progress…and it’s over twenty years before he’s back in the game. Don’t let that be you.

I love the picture that Joseph paints of God…He’s not only sovereign over the events of history, He’s also personally involved in the lives of His people. He is gracious and compassionate, a God of mercy. “God sent me ahead to preserve many lives…” It’s a word of life, not death. God in sovereign grace has guided Israel’s history. And God in sovereign grace is guiding our history as well.

My prayer for us…that we would continually be stunned by God’s work in our lives and that we would see clearly the evidences of His handiwork even in the most mundane and ordinary of circumstances.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster

 

Esther

Thoughts About What We’re Reading!

This week, we turn our attention to the book of Esther.

Esther is written in narrative form and it reads like any good story.

Esther is our heroine, Mordecai our hero, and Haman our villain.

The book is interesting in a couple of different ways. God is never mentioned in the book.

The New Testament does not quote from the book of Esther. Copies have not been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

We did not find reference to the Law, sacrificial system or offerings.  Although fasting is mentioned, prayer is not.

Our heroes in the story seem to lack any spiritual awareness – except in their assurance that God will protect his people.

Behind the scenes we see that God is faithful to His people, even when His people are not. We feel His sovereignty as the story develops.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the book of Esther takes place between chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra.

Although many Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple and reestablish the sacrificial system, many more Israelites chose to stay wherever they were located.

I suppose they stayed because they had grown comfortable where they were.

Maybe they had built homes, established businesses, or maybe their families had established roots in the community and they just didn’t want to give them up.

Whatever the reason, they chose to stay and, in effect, became a part of the culture in which they were living.

The Gospel Transformation Bible has this to say:

“When everything seems to be under the control of a godless despot; when God’s people, because of their own sin, have lost all memory of him, of their true identity, and of their land; God is nevertheless at work to fulfill his promise of ultimate triumph over his enemies (Gen. 3:15).

The triumph of God’s kingdom is not dependent upon the faithfulness of God’s people. Even when they think that the only way to survive is to blend in or keep quiet, yet God is able and willing to deliver.

He is ruling sovereignly, accomplishing his purposes whether we see him or not.

And that’s good news for all believers who wonder where he is in their suffering. We might not see him. He may be absent from mind, mention, or memory. And it might appear that he’s forgotten us or that our sins have finally turned him away.

But that is not the truth. The truth is that God is defending his people and building his church, and nothing—not even the ‘gates of hell’ (Matt. 16:18) —will prevail against him.”

Esther is one of my favorite stories, maybe because it reminds me that I do not have to have all the answers – it is comforting to know God is ruling sovereignly even when I fail, even in the midst of my suffering – even when I do not see His hand at work.

God’s plans, purposes and promises will not be thwarted!

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim

Sources used: Bible Knowledge Commentary, Gospel Transformation Bible

Our God Reigns

Thoughts About What We’re Reading!

This week, our reading plan takes us to the book of Daniel. When reading this book I suggest you stay focused on the central theme of the book – God’s sovereignty. You will see this throughout the book.

We read the book of Daniel in two parts. The first half contains narratives concerning the lives of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The second half of Daniel, contains apocalyptic visions, designed to reassure God’s people that in spite of persecution and suffering, God is in control and will ultimately be victorious.

In the first half of the book, Daniel and his friends are taken as captives from Israel to Babylon and are introduced into a new culture. We see how their belief in God enables them to endure, and even succeed, in an alien culture.

We see the mighty hand of God rescue them time after time. When reading the narrative portion however we should not miss the big picture – Daniel and his friends trusted in God throughout the ordeals, and were willing to live or die according to His will and purpose. 

The sobering thought in the last six chapters of Daniel is that God calls all nations, all kingdoms that oppose Him into judgment and destroys them.  There are times when God uses them to fulfill His purposes for a span of time, something we can find hard to understand.

But scripture teaches us that God remains sovereign over all the events of world history. It is also comforting to know, even when we do not feel or see it, His greatest concern remains with His people.

God is sovereign over all of the kingdoms of this world, the book of Daniel teaches us that all the kingdoms of this world will come to an end and be replaced by the Lord’s Kingdom.

Much like Daniel and his friends, we too are aliens and strangers in a land not our own. We are citizens of heaven. 

At times, when we read about the market, the terrorist attacks in Paris, Ebola and other global events that impact all of us, when we feel the pain of death of our loved ones, divorce and other issues that strike our hearts, we think the time must be near, the end must be coming.

We do not know the day or hour but we know where our hope lies – and it causes us to raise our eyes toward Jesus.

Someday the end of the world will indeed come. Jesus will return to draw history to its conclusion and to usher in a new heavens and earth.

Indeed, our God Reigns.

Until next time… Keep reading!

Jim

Sources used: ESV Study Bible, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Daniel by Philip Ryken

Cinderella Story

Genesis 41

Ultimately, this is a story about God. God working His plan even though at times it may not have been evident from the outside. And while that plan was played out at a macro level on the world stage in the form of a famine in the land, it was also played out at a micro level in the life of Joseph. What if Joseph had not obeyed his father Jacob to go find his brothers? What if his brothers had received him well? What if he had refused Mrs. Potiphar? What if he had been self-absorbed and ignored his two fellow prisoners? What if the cupbearer had remembered him right away and not forgotten him for two years? Joseph consistently made the right decision, having oriented his life toward God, without knowing the long-term benefits…although circumstances along the way didn’t seem to confirm it. In making the right decision suffering would come before glory…foreshadowing Jesus who suffered before being exalted to the right hand of the Father.

The story’s told: “Robert Dick Wilson was one of the most brilliant men of his time. He was a Hebrew professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. One of his graduates was the famous pastor Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who later on went on to pastor the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Twelve years after graduation Barnhouse went back to Princeton to preach in the old Miller Chapel. On that occasion his former professor Dr. Wilson sat on the front row to hear him. Barnhouse preached and afterwards Robert Dick Wilson came up, extended his hand and said to Barnhouse, “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big Godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big Godders or little Godders and then I know what their ministry will be. And Barnhouse asked him to explain. Dr. Wilson said, “Well some men have a little God and they’re always in trouble with Him. He can’t do any miracles, He can’t take care of inspiration and transmission of the Scriptures, He doesn’t intervene on behalf of His people. They have a little God. I call them little Godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks, it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him. You Donald have a great God and He will bless your ministry.” And he paused, smiled, said, “God bless you,” and walked away…”

Joseph saves the world. He’s at the top of the heap. How would he survive prosperity? By having his soul tempered through 13 years of suffering. He learned great dependence on God…he knew of God’s greatness, believed God’s word and trusted that God’s presence was with him. Joseph was a big Godder.

So how about you, are you a big Godder or a little Godder? Is Your God the God of the Bible, who not only created the universe, but is also Sovereign over it and actively involved in both world events and the lives of His people, or is He an ineffective and impotent God, unable to help in time of need and nervously watching events unfold? How big is your God?

May we be big Godders.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Genesis series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster