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?

pro rege

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.

pro rege

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

Cornelius’ Story Part 2

Acts 10.23b-48

Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius and his household, and they believe in Jesus and are saved. They receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized into the church. Jesus said to the Apostles, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The stage is now set for the final act of the mission to begin. The final kingdom key has been used and the door is now open. The gospel will soon spread to all nations and to the ends of the earth.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, what’s holding you back? What are you waiting for? We will all one day stand before Jesus. And when we do, He will either be our King or our Judge. At that point it will be too late to change your mind. What will it profit a person to gain the whole world and then at the end to find out that all you once held dear and built your life upon, all this world reveres and wars to own, all you once thought gain…comes crashing down. Why not trust in Jesus today? He will not only forgive your sins and give you eternal life, but He will also give your life purpose and meaning today. 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.

If you have trusted in Jesus, it’s your turn to pass the baton of faith on. Like Cornelius, we have become unlikely citizens of God’s kingdom. The faith that we have has been passed down from those who went before. I know it seems like we spend a lot of time talking about sharing your story. Maybe you think…yeah, I got it, I got it. But do you? Have you shared your story? If not, why not? Somebody shared their story with you…when will you share yours with someone else? When will you pass the baton? Who in your life needs to hear your story…how Jesus brought you from death to life and gave you new purpose and meaning, how He’s changed everything?

Let me challenge you this week to identify one person you can share your story with. And then do it. Just do it. I dare ya. And see what God does with it.

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

Cornelius’ Story Part 1

Acts 10.1-23a

Cornelius has a vision, Peter goes into a trance…little did these men know that God is in the midst of fulfilling His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. The first Gentile is about to be symbolically welcomed into the kingdom in the book of Acts, opening the floodgates for the rapid expansion of the church to all nations and to the ends of the earth.

Once again we see God’s hand at work through the story. An angel appears to Cornelius saying send for Peter. After a perplexing vision, the Spirit tells Peter to go without misgivings. Just like with Ananias and Saul, another divine meet-and-great that will have monumental implications for the history of the church.

Jesus had proclaimed to the Apostles that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. And now approximately ten years later, the gospel has yet to break beyond the second level…Judea and Samaria. Up to now an almost entirely Jewish thing. But God’s putting the pieces in place. He’s working on a guy named Peter to turn his “By no means Lord” into welcoming the men from Cornelius in and giving them lodging…and eventually having fellowship with them in Cornelius’ house. He’s preparing a guy named Saul. The gates of hell stand no chance.

Peter doesn’t know yet what God is up to when He calls him to action, but just like Abraham, he has been chosen for a unique purpose. Just like Saul. Just like you and me.

But even then, Peter has to be pried away from looking at his circumstances from a how-does this-impact-me mindset…a mindset that leads him and us invariably to respond selfishly, even if, like Peter, we really want to please the Lord. We often fail to grasp the bigger picture and instead of trusting and obeying…simply saying “yes”, we say, “what about me?” or worse, “by no means Lord.”

We need to learn to resist resistance to respond to God with an open and willing heart. When we choose to follow Jesus we become part of the rebellion…an other worldly kingdom…whose mission it is to storm the gates of hell and crush the power of Satan, setting the captives free into the abundant life that God intends for them. It is not always about us. When we trust God, our agenda, purpose and motivation changes. And when we realize it is not about us, it frees us up to do His work. And when we know God because we have spent time with Him, we have the confidence to turn a prompting of the Lord into action for Him and His people. And when we do it again and again and again a warrior of faith emerges. His Spirit transforms us a little bit more to live and love like Jesus. One step at a time…from Lydda to Joppa, from Joppa to a tanner’s house, from a tanner’s house to Cornelius’ house. Each time Peter said yes, he looked more like Jesus. You will too. But we have to turn our “by no means Lord” into “yes Lord.”

You are here today because Peter unlocked the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles. It all started because Peter welcomed a couple of “unclean” guys into his home. He trusted the Lord. He dropped his agenda. He opened his mind to the possibility that God could use him in that moment to transform lives. He extended his hand to simply turn the knob and open the door. You are also here today because someone else said “yes” to the Lord and shared the gospel with you. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.

If you are here seeking, like Cornelius, start knocking. Talk to a friend about Jesus. And if you have already walked through that door and are following Jesus, say “yes” to Him…open your ears, open your heart and be ready and willing to be the one God uses to open the door for the next guy. Who is that for you? Is there someone in your life about whom you are saying, “by no means Lord”? God has chosen you for such a time as this. Pray, think, then act…try saying “yes” to the Lord instead.

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

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8.26-40

Philip shares his story and the good news of the gospel with both the crowds and with an individual. He is a faithful servant who obeys the will of His Master. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and invites us to join Him in that mission.

This story is a reminder that God cares about each one of us individually. Here He orchestrates events and circumstances so that both the eunuch and Philip are in the right place at the right time. He even provides the water so that the eunuch could be baptized…on a desert road.

Just as God orchestrated events in the eunuch’s life to bring him to faith, He has also worked in each one of us who have trusted in Him, orchestrating events, bringing the right person or persons at the right time to share with us the life-giving message of salvation in Jesus. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, this is one of those orchestrating events. It’s no accident or coincidence that you are reading this blog post…

And if you have trusted in Jesus, God wants to use you to impact the lives of those around you for the kingdom. Are you ready? Do you believe that the gospel is good news? That’s foundational. We have to believe that the gospel really is good news. If that’s true for you, have you taken the time to write down your story? Start there. Then ask God for opportunities to share your faith. But be warned…if you ask, He will give them to you. You don’t have to force it…you just have to be sensitive to what God is doing in the moment, and then be courageous in sharing your story.

I’ve had the opportunity to share the gospel in large settings and one-on-one. Both are awesome, but I can tell you that the one-on-one settings are more challenging, yet more rewarding in a lot of ways. One-on-one I still get scared and have to pray for boldness…even as a pastor…but I’ve found that when I’m obedient and just say “yes” in the moment, that God is faithful to give me courage, and it ends up being an easy conversation…I don’t even feel like I have to drive. I’m just along for the ride. Sometimes when I’m talking to folks it’s a “no” when it comes to Jesus, sometimes I’ve found out later my conversation was one along the way that led to their trusting in Jesus, and sometimes I’ve gotten the awesome privilege of seeing someone trust in Jesus. My job is simply to be obedient.

How about you? Are you ready? Are you available? Will you be obedient?

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

The Gospel Spreads to Samaria

Acts 8.1-25

Don’t do what Simon says…don’t be like Simon, seeing the gospel as a means of promoting your own agenda…of promoting yourself. Instead be like Philip, who believed in Jesus and promoted His kingdom, and who also, in a time of persecution, was faithful and obedient to proclaim the gospel and point others to Jesus. 

What Saul and his buddies meant for evil, God will use to grow His church. In Philip’s case it’s persecution, for you God may be using your current circumstances to lead you to your next kingdom assignment. Will you, like Philip, be obedient and faithful?

Do you recognize the opportunities that God is giving you to tell your story? Do you notice them in your workplace, with your friends and family, with your neighbors, or wherever God has you? Whether it’s in a time of relative calm or chaos, the gospel should be part of the luggage we take with us wherever we go.

Finally, are you pointing others to Jesus and pursuing His kingdom like Philip, or are you still living according to this world’s values like Simon, pursuing your own kingdom? Are you living for this world or the one to come? One path leads to abundant life in the kingdom, the other…a scathing rebuke.

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

The Ascension Revisited

Acts 1.1-11

Jesus’ last words to His Apostles are His final instructions for the church. Until He returns we have a job to do. We are to be His witnesses…to share the good news of the salvation we have in Jesus. And our job is not done until we go to be with Him or He comes for us.

In Luke 19.11-27, Jesus tells the parable of the minas. A nobleman going off to receive a kingdom gives each of his slaves a mina which they are to invest until he comes back. When he returns, he calls three of his slaves forward to report what kind of return they had on their investments. The first slave exclaims, “Master, your mina made ten minas more…isn’t that awesome!?!. The King’s response, “That it is. Well done good slave…you will be ruler over ten cities.” The second slave made five minas. The King puts him in charge of five cities. But the third slave said, “Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.” The King’s reaction, “You worthless slave…at least you could have put my money in the bank, so that I might have it back with interest.”And his one mina is taken away. The mina in the parable is the gospel. Our King has entrusted each of us with the message of the gospel, and each of us will have to give an accounting to Him of how we invested the gospel in the lives of others when He returns.

Jesus is coming back. Until He does, our work is not done. So let’s invest our minas well. The Spirit is the One who empowers us to tell our stories…to bear witness…of the impact that the gospel has made in our lives and to share the hope that we have in Jesus with a lost and dying world in desperate need of saving…

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