Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Acts 16.1-10

Paul and Silas head out on the second missionary journey. Along the way they pick up Timothy, and, following the guidance of the Spirit, end up in Troas on their way to Macedonia.

Now we are not told how Paul got the “no” from the Spirit on two separate occasions on their journey. And it brings up an interesting question that’s often asked…“how do I know what God’s will is for me?” I think we often treat God’s will like a code to be cracked. If we can just figure out the secret handshake or discover the hidden message kept in some mysterious place then we will know what God wants us to do. We’ll discover the “National Treasure” that is His will. But what if it’s easier than that? You see I believe that God, as a good Father, wants us to know what it is He would have us do. Like any parent wants for their children. But like children we often fail to listen. It’s been said, and I would tend to agree that 90% of what God wants you to do can be found…in His Word, the Bible. The Bible is the Codebook, if you will, to life. In It, God gives us instruction on how we are to live…how we are to conduct ourselves, how we are to respond, what we are to do. And if you are spending time daily in God’s Word, you will learn to hear His voice, and not only will you discover the 90%, but the 10% also becomes more and more clear.

But not only should you spend time in God’s Word, you should also be spending time in prayer. If we are spending time with God in prayer daily, listening as well as talking, then we have this promise from Proverbs 3.5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” The 10% becomes clear when we’re spending time with the Lord.

Paul was preoccupied with the kingdom. He was undistracted in His pursuit of Jesus. When we spend time in God’s Word and spend time in prayer with Him, we too can become less focused on ourselves and more preoccupied with the kingdom. But we have to be intentional. And Paul wasn’t alone in his journey…he had a group of buddies with him who were also preoccupied with the kingdom. That’s important. Do you have a group of believers that you’re pursuing Jesus with? A community or small group?

I’m also struck by the fact that Paul’s journey was anything but linear. Sometimes we think the Christian life is a series of moves from one successive step to the next in a very predictable pattern, but often it’s way more exciting than that. Think rollercoaster rather than escalator. And although it may not have made sense to Paul in the moment he was willing to ride the rollercoaster…he was willing to wait when God said, “Wait” and go when God said, “Go”. Paul wasn’t following his own agenda, but that of his Master. If we are honest, I think often we let our agenda get in the way of God’s agenda even when we are doing things “for Him”. We have to remember that His ways are not always our ways…and it’s His ways that matter.

One last thing…Paul didn’t give up. When God closed door number and door number two, Paul kept going until God opened door number three. How often do we give up before we get to door number three and miss the opportunity that God has for us there? Again time in the Word, time in prayer and time with other believers and a passion to share the gospel with those who have a front row seat to our lives will help us persevere to door number three.

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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

The Jerusalem Council

Acts 15.1-21

A question over entrance requirements for the kingdom is threatening the unity of the early church. Should the Gentiles be required to become Jews before becoming Christians? At stake is the very gospel itself. Is salvation by faith in Jesus alone or not?

The council renders an overwhelming verdict in the affirmative…salvation is by faith in Jesus alone according to God’s grace. That’s awesome news! Every obstacle has been removed so that you can come to Jesus by faith, just as you are. If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, what’s stopping you?

I’ve got to believe that the hearts of these Pharisaic Christians were in the right place. They didn’t necessarily want to keep folks out, they just wanted to control how they came in. I think sometimes we do the same thing. Maybe not consciously, but we kind of expect that folks who follow Jesus will look like us…they’ll act like us, they’ll have the same convictions as us…and when they don’t we begin to question whether or not they are really one of us.

There is a fine line between conviction and legalism. There are things that the Bible is clear about, and walking in those things is part of following Jesus. I’m not talking about those things. But there are things that the Bible isn’t necessarily clear on…and on those things through our own reading of Scripture and time with the Lord we develop convictions. Those are more personal…our own rules of engagement. When we take our convictions…not talking about what the Bible says, but our convictions…and inflict those on others we’ve crossed the line into legalism. Legalism is measuring my righteousness against yours…comparing how good I am to how bad you are. And it’s easy to fall into. We say salvation is by faith alone, but we too can hang expectations on that, can’t we? What are those expectations for you, and how are they keeping you from welcoming others into the faith? Do they need to act, dress, talk or behave a certain way? If that’s you, it’s time to let go of those expectations.

No doubt Jesus changes everything. Like Paul says, when we choose Jesus we are turning from vain things to follow the living God. But sometimes I think we hang on to those vain things. I think we drag them along with us as we half-heartedly, if that, turn in His direction. What are the vain things you are holding on to? What idols…what sins…what of your past are you clinging to, unwilling to let go of? You will not experience the life that Jesus saved you for until you let go of them. If that’s you, I want to invite you to let go of those things, and turn completely to Him 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

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: 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

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

The First Missionary Journey: First Encounter

Acts 13.1-12

Paul and Barnabas are sent out by the Spirit from Antioch on their first missionary journey. Their excitement is tempered when they have their first encounter of spiritual opposition from a guy named Bar-Jesus.

The sad irony in this story…a Jew attempts to block a Gentile from coming to faith. You see, through Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The Jews were to be a blessing to the nations, leading them to God and not barring the way. Bar-Jesus openly opposed Paul and Barnabas. I would hope that none of us openly oppose the gospel…that none of us would willingly stand in the way of someone trusting in Jesus. But even if it’s not openly, can’t we subtly become stumbling blocks? Maybe by the way we fail to follow Jesus…the way we fail to point others to Him?

God’s fingerprints are all over this story, just as they have been throughout the book of Acts. The Spirit is actively leading, guiding, empowering, acting, choosing, sending, moving…it’s His church. The danger is when we attempt to hijack the Spirit’s job and make it our own. And then we wonder why nothing spiritually significant happens. It’s a reminder for us…the battle belongs to the Lord. Transforming families to live and love like Jesus is not about a program…it’s the work of the Spirit. It happens as we submit to Him…as we worship and serve, engaging in the work He’s given each one of us to do.

Each of us has been gifted and called and equipped for a purpose…something that, when lived out, amazing things happen. A few weeks ago, Ricky talked about living with a heavenly perspective. It’s living a life of consequence, a life of deep kingdom impact. Each of us has a part to play…a role, if you will, in the kingdom drama. What would it look like if we were all pursuing that together? How would it impact our church? How might it impact this valley and beyond? In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said to seek the kingdom and live according to God’s righteousness. How’s that going for you? Are you being led by the Spirit to say yes to kingdom things? BTW when we follow the Spirit’s leading that doesn’t mean its an easy journey…that the Enemy’s going to give us a free pass…on the contrary we need to expect opposition. But, like Paul and Barnabas, we need to do it anyway.

Where are you saying yes to serving God and his Church? Are you sharing your story with others, are you involved in a ministry, are you giving financially to the mission? If not, why not? What’s holding you back?

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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

A Level Playing Field

Acts 11.1-18

Jewish believers are questioning Peter’s reasoning, not for preaching to Cornelius and his household, but for eating with them. They struggle to understand how Peter, an Apostle and their fearless leader, being a Jew could have fellowship with the Gentiles.

Buried in their criticism there seems to be this underlying assumption that will become more clear later on that before the Gentiles can be welcomed into the church, they must first become Jews. After all, the OT covenants with Abraham and David and even the New Covenant were all made by God with the Jewish people. The nations could be blessed through Abraham, but even then they weren’t on the same footing. The Jews were God’s chosen people.

The scandal of the gospel is that Gentiles too could enter into the kingdom simply by believing in Jesus without first becoming Jews (Colossians 1.21-27). The gospel + anything is legalism. It’s what Paul rails against in Galatians. Salvation is by grace through faith alone… In other words, the Jews and the Gentiles are on equal footing. There is now one people of God…doesn’t mean that God is done with the Jews as a people (stay tuned for Romans and Revelation), but it means that we have equal access to the Father through Jesus, that we have the same Spirit living in us. I think it’s hard for us to understand how big a deal this is. We who were the furthest from God and least deserving of His mercy…that He could love even us, that He would welcome us into His kingdom. We of all people should be the most thankful. There’s this awesome picture in Revelation 7.9-10…“a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” 

And while we may think this was just their problem aka this group of Jewish believers, how often do we in the church look at others and jump to conclusions because they don’t do things the way we would like for them to? We say that we want unbelievers coming to church, but the reality is that it’s messy. It’s much easier if someone becomes a Christian before they start attending church. How often do we miss what God is up to because we are caught up in our own agenda?

Often we’ve said we should expect persecution…following Jesus is counter-cultural and revolutionary…it’s treason against the god of this world and an affront to those living according to this world’s values…so we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a predictable outcome. They persecuted Jesus, and they will persecute us. So far so good. But what happens when the persecution comes from inside the church…so-called friendly fire or team kills? We expect it out there, but when it happens in here? It just shouldn’t be. We’re all on a level playing field because of Jesus. Just Jesus. Because Jesus + ______= Legalism. Is there a + _____ in your life? If so, what is it? And what are you going to do about it?

One day we will be gathered around a throne worshiping God, not worried about what divides us, but celebrating the One who unites us. Amen, Come Lord 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