A New and Glorious Morn

Isaiah 7.10-17

Our world is not so different from Ahaz’s world. The threat of war and rumors of war abound. Fear is on the rise, and wickedness reigns throughout the land. If we are honest with ourselves, we too are tempted to make alliances…compromises to ensure our well-being. We put our trust in jobs or bank accounts or status or retirement plans or followers or people or you fill-in-the-blank to save us…anything other than the Lord. And being overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, we forget that Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.

Inevitably God brings us into crisis…illness, death of a loved one, loss of a job, broken relationships, dashed hopes, forgotten dreams. Sooner or later we all have to answer the question: If I put my trust in God, will He save me? Does He really love me, and does He really care about me and my circumstances? Our answer is either a confident “yes” or a wavering “I’m not sure.” Is God “the LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim), the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God who is intimately involved in His creation (Genesis 2-3) who knows me and loves me and cares about me, or is He “God” (Elohim), the God who is out there, too big and too busy to be bothered with me, who only is looking out for His own interests according to the serpent in Genesis 3? And just as folks in Isaiah’s day found out…when God’s people don’t trust Him as they should, they pay a price for it. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all (cf. Isaiah 7.9b). But God’s grace always has the last word—His grace triumphs over our failure. God, the LORD God, is present in our crises. If we will trust Him, He will save us. If we refuse Him, He will discipline us. But know this…He delights to save us.

Are you making alliances or compromises to save yourself, or are you trusting God? Your level of worry/fear/discontentment vs. contentment/joy/rest is a good indicator. The more you trust in God, the more the fruits of the Spirit will abound. The more you trust yourself…not so much.

Jesus says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” The secret to experiencing the life that God has saved us for starts with believing that He loves us…really loves us…and resting in His love. And to do that, we have to do what He says, knowing that what He commands is for our good as His children, then we can experience both the life and the fullness of joy He intended for us…we might call it a new and glorious morn.

There is a haunting Christmas carol that says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear…Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” The music to this carol is written in a minor key…or so they tell me. Can joy be found in a minor key? Can there be joy in difficult circumstances? The answer is a resounding “yes” if we remember Immanuel…that God is with us and is for us, and if we remember that He has an eternal home waiting for us.

Even though Ahaz is a wicked king, God graciously invites him to trust in Him. If you have not yet trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then God offers the same gracious invitation to you. He wants you to trust Him, then you too can experience a new and glorious morn…the joy that only Jesus can bring, knowing that He is with you always. But don’t wait. The time is short. Just as God is with those of us who have trusted in Him for salvation, so He is also with those who refuse Him for judgment. 

May you experience a new and glorious morn this Christmas season, Immanuel…God with us, and may you trust Him fully in all of life’s circumstances.

Join us next week as we continue our Advent story with…Fall on Your Knees.

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This post is based on our Advent Series, The Thrill of Hope. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Thrill of Hope

Genesis 3.1-19

God created a perfect world. All that God had made was good, including the man and his wife. It’s paradise…heaven on earth. What happened? It’s hard to describe the catastrophic results of one single disobedient decision. Welcome to life as we know it. Every act of violence, every natural disaster, every awful thing that has happened since is a direct result.

What was the sin of the garden? It was rebellion. It was pride in its purest form. The Image-bearers were not satisfied with merely bearing the Image…they wanted to be the Image. Instead of trusting their loving Creator who had so “fearfully and wonderfully” made them, who had entrusted them with representing Him to His creation, who had made them king and queen over planet earth, they rejected Him and spurned His love. They sought to oust Him and take His place. They wanted a shot at the title.

But lest we too quickly fault our first parents, we see that same act of rebellion repeated legion in our own lives. If man and woman in a perfect environment fail to follow God on their own, what hope do we have? Our only hope is Jesus.

The thrill of hope is…God’s not done yet. The thrill of hope is…God’s pursuit of His wayward children. The thrill of hope is…forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The thrill of hope is…the LORD God… a restored relationship with our Creator, sons and daughters of the high King.

That’s why I love Genesis 3.15…what we couldn’t do for ourselves, God will do, when He sends His Son, Jesus, as the Head-Crushing Seed of the Woman, whose dying words, will be, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do!” The Thrill of Hope is…Genesis 3.15.

Those of us who have trusted in Jesus…aka the seed of the woman…are at war with the seed of the serpent, not by choice but because of the hatred and hostility they have toward us. Guess what side the culture is on? Adam gave up not only his innocence in the fall, but also his right to rule. He gave that to the serpent…“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”  So those who follow God suffer not only the consequences of theirs and others bad choices and the effects of a fallen world, but also the attacks of the enemy. And yet hope is possible because the Head-Crushing Seed of the Woman has come…Jesus has come…and He has defeated the Adversary. And now we wait with all of creation for the time when Jesus will come back, not as the Suffering Lamb, but as the Roaring Lion…not as a Baby in a manger, but as the Conquering King. He will come back to set all things right…

May you experience the thrill of hope this Christmas season and the amazing love of God who didn’t give up on us even in our rebellion, but who has pursued us and did what we could not do, provide the way back to Himself through Jesus, the Head-Crushing Seed of the Woman.

Join us next week as we continue our Advent story with…The Weary World Rejoices.

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This post is based on our Advent Series, The Thrill of Hope. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Jonah and the Great Fish

Jonah

God’s plan has always been for the nations. He promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. For God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son…

How did Jonah miss that? He had a tremendous response from folks he seemingly couldn’t care less about…first on the ship and then in Nineveh. And the overwhelming response of the folks in Nineveh even makes him angry. He definitely doesn’t share God’s heart on the matter. Remember what I said last week about Joshua and Jericho…had the folks in Jericho repented…had they aligned themselves with Israel like Rahab…God would have shown mercy. Judgment is always the last resort. They too could have been included among God’s people. Jonah reminds us of that.

I think if we are honest with ourselves we can be like Jonah. Maybe for good reason…or so we think. Maybe someone’s hurt us in some way. Maybe they are making bad life choices. I don’t know. We can come up with all kinds of reasons why, but the bottom line is: we don’t think they deserve God’s mercy. We of course do. But they definitely don’t. Oh, we would never say it out loud, or at least not where everyone could hear us. But our action or inaction speaks louder than words. Who are you avoiding/refusing to share your story with? Maybe you think they won’t respond in faith, or maybe you think they will. But how can we expect God to be gracious to us if we won’t share His grace with others?

Two things that are unmistakable in this story…God’s sovereignty over and His love for His creation. He appoints a great wind and a great fish, a plant and a worm and a scorching east wind. He directs His prophet and even uses the prophet’s disobedience to accomplish the salvation of a great number of folks. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of calamity. He loves the lost. He loves us too. And like a good Parent, He pursues us even when we are running from Him.

God’s question to Jonah at the end of the story isn’t answered. “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?” We all need the LORD’s compassion. Who do you need to share it with this week?

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

Acts 29

Acts 28.17-31

The book of Acts ends somewhat abruptly. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to Paul or how his trial turned out. We know from church history that Paul was eventually martyred in Rome, but whether that happened shortly after the two years were up or some time later we don’t know for sure.

But Acts is not the story of Paul…or Peter…it’s the story of the Church and of what God accomplished through it in the early days and what He still is accomplishing through it today. And so it’s fitting that Luke leaves the story open-ended because the question is, what chapter will we write? What does Acts 29 look like for us? For Central? For you and me?

The book of Acts can be summed up in one word…Go! And as I think back through our time in Acts, here are ten key takeaways that fit the theme of Go!

1) The gospel is for everyone in every place at all times…Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Our job isn’t done until everyone has had a chance to respond. So you are to Go…

2) Jesus is either your King or He will be your Judge. There is no neutral ground. Everyone must decide for themselves whether or not they will choose to believe. No one can choose for you. There are no +1’s in the kingdom. So it’s imperative that you Go…

3) Suffering and persecution are a part of what it means to follow Jesus. We live in a world that is in open rebellion against its Creator, serving a counterfeit king. As followers of the true King, we will always be hated by those enslaved to the pretender. Nevertheless Go…

4) Expect opposition. See 3) above. The enemy is not going to give us a free pass to raid his kingdom. So boldly Go…

5) The good news is…the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. We need not fear or draw back in the face of opposition or persecution because our King has already won the day. Satan is a defeated foe. So you can confidently Go…

6) God does not often save us from the storm, but He does save us through the storm. He has not forgotten you or abandoned you. He is right there with you. So faithfully Go…

7) God is the Author of your story. He is telling the gospel through your life. He can be trusted. He is not done with you yet. He does what He says He will do. So obediently Go…

8) Our circumstances provide us with a platform to share our story…to share the gospel…that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Take advantage of it. Look beyond the circumstances to the opportunities God is giving you. So be aware as you Go…

9) God has given you a family to belong to…fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ. Another reason you are not alone. So you can joyfully Go…

10) God didn’t save you to go to heaven…He saved you on purpose with a purpose. To share your story. So Go…

Where do we go from here…what does your chapter of the story look like? What is your Acts 29? Go…

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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

Rome at Last

Acts 28.1-16

It’s been a long and grueling trip, but Paul has finally made it to Rome. And as he nears the end of his journey, he’s welcomed by the church in Rome.

All along the way, God has guided Paul’s journey. Though many times it seemed his life was in peril…from the Jews more than once, from the sea, from the soldiers, from the serpent…he was never in danger. God still had work for him to do. He had a divine appointment to keep in Rome. God said it, and Paul rightly believed that He would also bring it to pass. God can be trusted. He didn’t save Paul from the storm, but He saved him through the storm.

God was the Author of Paul’s story. He is also the Author of your story. I don’t know what your storm looks like today, but He does. And more than that, He’s right there with you in the hurricane-force winds and the crashing waves. And He wants to accomplish something in and through you in the midst of the storm. Believe it or not, the storm is an important part of the story He’s telling through you. That assumes of course that in the storm you are looking to Him. Running towards Him instead of away. Crying out to Him instead of crying out against Him.

We said it before, the furnace, i.e., the storm, can either destroy you or purify you. It can either turn you to ash, or turn you into something beautiful. What is it doing to you?

The storm is also a platform that God is providing for you to share your story…to share the gospel…to share the hope that you have. A hope that is no more prominently displayed than when you are in the storm. Because it shows a watching world that your faith is real.

We’ve talked a lot about circumstances and furnaces and storms and chains in the last several weeks…take some time right now to pray…to cry out to God…to ask Him to help you in the storm and through the storm and to use you through it to display the gospel in a unique way.

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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 Adventure at Sea

Acts 27

What a ride! Paul’s trip to Rome is proving to be anything but boring. And although things were touch and go there for a while, what God says He does and so Paul and his companions are brought safely through the storm.

The epic journey from Caesarea to Rome is a reminder of Jesus’ charge to the Apostles before He ascended…that they were to be His witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. All the families of the earth being blessed. The gospel is for everyone, everywhere, at all times. You have been entrusted with that same gospel…what are you doing with it? Who are you sharing it with? Who might you share it with this week?

I wonder what impact Paul’s faith had on Julius and the rest of the folks on board this Alexandrian ship. He demonstrated that his faith in God was well-founded when God rescued the entire crew from storm and sea. Not only can His Word be trusted for physical salvation, but no doubt Paul took the opportunity to share his story and his confidence that God could be trusted to rescue them also from sin and death. God keeps His Word. 

I’m struck by the fact that Paul was granted the folks traveling with him…almost as if he asked God to rescue them as well. Believe it or not you can have an impact on others even when you are in the storm. The question is, are you looking out for those around you or are you so focused on the storm that you miss the opportunity?

I want to end with a challenge…many of you are in the midst of the storm. Maybe you’ve lost your bearings and have all but given up hope of any kind of rescue. Maybe it seems like an eternity since you’ve seen calm waters and the light of day. Maybe in desperation you’ve tried all kinds of things to save yourself. Take courage. Don’t be afraid. God has not forgotten you, and He will never abandon you. He has promised to always be with you and to see you through. He doesn’t often save us from the storm, but He does save us through the storm.

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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 before Agrippa

Acts 26

Paul makes his last defense before he heads to Rome…a defense not so much of the charges against him as it is a defense of the gospel.

Once again we are faced with the question, what will we do with Jesus? Accept or reject. Follow or turn away. He is either King, or He will be Judge. We don’t know how most of the folks responded that day. We know that Festus thought the idea of a resurrection was crazy. Agrippa wasn’t ready. What about you?

Paul asked Agrippa, “Do you believe the Prophets?” Let me ask you the same question…do you believe the Prophets? Do you believe God’s Word? Our culture would say it’s antiquated, outdated, no longer relevant, even absurd…but what about you? It is either true or it’s not. You cannot pick and choose. It’s all or nothing. And if you believe the Bible’s true, what impact is it having on your life…the decisions you make, the conversations you have, the way you see and interact with the world around you? Maybe you’ve trusted Jesus as Savior, but have you made Him Lord? Does He call the shots…set the agenda..chart the course in your life? Or do you?

Once again we are reminded that our circumstances provide opportunities that we might not otherwise have. Are you taking advantage of them? Are you intentionally looking for ways to share your story? If not, what’s holding you back?

Let me challenge you this week…share your story with one person.

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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