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

In the Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule … over all the earth’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1.26-27

Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Great thinkers have wrestled with these questions for millennia. How I answer those questions will determine how I live my life, my worldview, how I interact with others.

If I accept what the culture says about the meaning of life, then I’m just 1 of 7 billion+ other human beings on planet earth evolved from goo over the span of billions of years. I am the product of time and chance. Life has no meaning beyond the here and now, so the best I can hope for is to eat, drink and enjoy, do what feels good, regardless of the consequences. After all, there’s no such thing as God or divine law or eternal consequences. Other human beings are tools to be used for my pleasure or to further my ends, or they are obstacles to be squashed.

But if I accept what the Bible says about the meaning of life, then I’m of infinite value because I bear God’s image. I have an incredible destiny and have tremendous potential because I have been made in His likeness to reflect Him to His creation (what it means to “rule”). As an image-bearer, I am loved with an unfathomable, incomprehensible love by Creator God. It means also that others have infinite value as fellow image-bearers, and that I’m to love them as such.

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, their rebellion, their sin, as we see in Genesis 3, marred the image…it didn’t erase it. It separated us from Creator God, resulting in our death and put our destiny and potential in serious jeopardy. And if not for this amazing God, our story would end in despair. We would never reach our potential and could never fulfill our destiny. We would be forever separated from our Creator. But He wasn’t done yet. Even in the midst of our rebellion, He made a promise and provided a way that we could be rescued and our relationship with Him could be restored, our destiny and potential realized…through faith in the Head-crushing Seed of the woman, the Redeemer of Genesis 3.15, who we know as Jesus.

As a pastor, I see so many folks who have believed the lie that their lives have no purpose. That’s why drugs and pornography and prostitution and abuse and all manner of other awful things that we do to ourselves and others are so rampant. Those caught up in these things fail to see their own worth and refuse to acknowledge another’s. It’s the predictable consequence of accepting the philosophy that says, “You’re an accident.”

What you believe matters. You were made in the image of God.

Until next time…stay salty.

The Long Awaited Hero

Luke 3.15-38

John’s job was straightforward…prepare the way for Jesus, so that when Jesus came folks would be ready to receive Him. His coming would be good news for those who were ready…but His coming would be bad news indeed for those who were not.

Jesus is the long awaited Hero of our story. It was confirmed by both the Father and the Spirit at His baptism. It was confirmed by His ancestry tying Him to the promises God made to David, Abraham and the serpent (Genesis 3.15). He is the Hero of our story…the One and only One.

John knew his place before God. He knew he wasn’t the Hero…that even he needed to repent of his sin. True repentance and a life of faith come from a deep understanding of who God is, and who we are before Him. He is our Creator and our Redeemer. He is the boss, we are not. John understood who God was and had the right perspective here on earth. He knew that the most important thing he could do with his earthly life was to spread Jesus’ message, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John’s audience only had two options…accept his message and repent (aka believe in Jesus) or reject his message and face judgment. There was no middle ground. There was no riding the fence. There was no “one foot in, one foot out”. The choice was simple…

The same is true for us today. We can either choose to believe in Jesus, or we choose to reject Him. There is no middle ground. There is no “both” option. Those who believe in Jesus should be evident by their actions…actions that flow from a life that has been transformed by Jesus. John calls it “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance”. As believers, living the way John the Baptist did, our lives should be marked with gratitude, confidence and freedom…gratitude knowing how good God is…to create us and then provide a path of repentance after our rebellion. How can we not live a life of gratitude, knowing that we are loved that much? Everything has been taken care of by Him. Confidence that our salvation is wrapped up in what Jesus did.. not what we do. That should make us breathe a sigh of relief. Freedom to love others despite how they love us.

Those who have not believed in Jesus, whether they’ve rejected Him outright or have not heard the gospel are mostly revealed by their actions…actions that flow from a life that is still dead in trespasses and sins. For them, Jesus’ coming is the unquenchable fire of judgment. One thing I want to be clear…we were all on the path of destruction. Every one of us. But Jesus came to offer a way of escape. He came to rescue us. So those who reject Jesus will face judgment, not simply because they rejected Jesus…we were all on under judgment, condemned to hell because of our rebellion against our Creator long ago…but because they rejected His offer of rescue. If that’s you, or you suspect it might be you, please know that it doesn’t have to be. The Bible says that if you believe that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to earth and lived a perfect life, the one we were supposed to have lived, He died a sacrificial death in our place, He was resurrected on the 3rd day conquering both sin and death, and that He is now at the right hand of God the Father, you are saved.

Then Jesus will be your long awaited Hero.

 

Until next time…stay salty.

“May we live like those who have been rescued and transformed by Jesus.”

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

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Luke 2.1-21

Mary had a little Lamb…what a simple story with life-changing implications! Mary’s little Lamb is none other than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is not only the long-awaited Jewish Messiah who came to save His people from their enemies…both physical and spiritual, but He’s also Lord who is worthy of all worship and praise and honor…and obedience.

The heavens erupt in praise at His coming, and the shepherds catch the excitement. The people are amazed, and Mary ponders. So what will you do? Do you know Jesus as both Savior and Lord? If so, are you experiencing the joy that salvation brings? Do you have a sense of excitement about the Word you’ve heard? Do you have the desire to tell others the good news? If so, good. Keep proclaiming the good news. If not, why not? Have the cares of this world and your present circumstances robbed you of your joy and excitement? Spend some time this week, like Mary, pondering the truth of God’s Word and the amazing realization of your rescue. It really is good news. Ask God to reignite that fire in your belly, that excitement about following Him.

If you don’t know Jesus as Savior and Lord today, I want to invite you to take that first step. Jesus came as Savior, the Hero and only one who could rescue us. Unlike the kings of this world who may be able to save from mortal enemies, King Jesus came to save us from our real enemies, both sin and death. Unlike earthly kings who promise peace through force of arms, King Jesus brings peace that invades every aspect of our being…peace with God, peace with men, peace with creation and peace with ourselves. Jesus came not just as Savior, but also as Lord. He is our Sovereign and deserves our allegiance. But unlike the kings of this world who force subjugation and seek only their own good, King Jesus is a benevolent Ruler who invites submission and seeks the good of His subjects.

 

 May we experience afresh and anew the uncontainable joy and excitement that salvation brings, and may we share that joy with others as we tell them about Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Divine Pronouncement

Luke 1.26-38

Mary’s obedience…her submission to the Lord’s will reminds me of a contrast that Soren Kierkegaard made when he was wrestling with Genesis 22 in his essay, Fear and Trembling, between the knight of faith and the knight of infinite resignation. The knight of infinite resignation obeys God purely out of a sense of duty and obligation. He does what’s required, but only because it’s required. The knight of faith also obeys and does what’s required, but he or she does so with joy and expectancy. We will see next week…Mary is definitely the knight of faith.

This is the greatest news ever…since the time of the fall, the people of God have been looking for the promised Head-crushing Seed of the woman. The Hero who would come to rescue them and lead them back to the garden and restore their relationship with Creator God. And now He’s here!

Mary is an unlikely candidate to be the mother of the Messiah from an earthly perspective…in this age of celebrity we might have expected someone more prestigious, someone more connected, a little more flash or a bigger deal, not a young, poor small town girl. I’m glad God’s not caught up in the things that we are. I’m glad that He always redefines our view of family and grace. He sees her humble heart, that she’s poor in spirit…she’s desperately craving His grace. She was reflective…pondering the angel’s words, believing and submissive. She’s a great example for us.

God is fulfilling His promise to David, and not just to David, but to all His people from the time of the fall…we can trust God to fulfill promises today. Promises of everlasting life and an eternal kingdom, of His presence with us. Only God can accomplish these things…He can do great things and use whomever He chooses to accomplish His purpose however He wishes. You are not insignificant in God’s design…in His plan to reach the valley. From an earthly perspective, Mary was a nobody from a nothing town in the middle of nowhere, but not so from the heavenly perspective. She had a significant role to play in God’s plan of redemption, so do you. He wants to use you to impact the folks around you for His kingdom.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost … He comes to a needy people…those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and need for a Rescuer, not the proud and self-sufficient. Do you recognize your desperate need for Him?

Until next time…stay salty.

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

A Renewed Spirit

Daniel 10

This is probably the clearest reference that we have to spiritual conflict in the OT. Spiritual warfare…angels fighting demons. The fate of the ancient world in the balance…sounds like it would make for a great movie. But this is no movie. What was happening to Daniel was real. And the spiritual conflict is no less real today, although we, the church in the West, have all but convinced ourselves it doesn’t exist. Not so in many places around the world. Last spring I took a trip to Nepal where spiritual warfare is more palpable. Much like many 2nd and 3rd world countries, temples and idols are everywhere and the spiritual oppression can be felt.

While the church in the West may be turning a blind eye to spiritual opposition, the American culture at large is not. There is a dangerous fascination and preoccupation with the occult and the demonic. They’re considered entertainment…they’re seen as cool, trendy, edgy, no big deal, cute or even laughable (Sabrina the teenage witch, Supernatural, The Secret Circle, Charmed, Hocus Pocus, tattoos depicting death or demons, tacos named El Diablo, Twilight). Hollywood seems to be fascinated with it. Horror movies in general.

When it comes to the spiritual realm, we have strayed away from biblical truths. What we learn from Daniel in this passage is this: Daniel’s prayer is somehow a part of this process. An angel was sent in response to Daniel’s prayer, the angel battled the prince of Persia, this dark angel, this demon, to deliver Daniel the message, and Daniel’s vision into the spiritual realm was so disturbing that he was terrified. There are powerful forces of evil at work in the kings and nations of the world to defeat and overthrow the people and the work of God…but there are also more powerful forces of good working harmoniously together who will overcome the wicked opponents…good triumphs over evil, the kingdom is in good hands, its success is assured.

Just as there was a “prince” of Persia and of Greece, there are “princes” behind the earthly kings and kingdoms of the world today who actively oppose God and His people. Terrorists attacks around the world. The ferocious violence of ISIS. The recent Supreme Court decisions…all are clear examples of that opposition where evil is called good, and good evil…where truth is determined by public opinion. And just as Daniel fasted, mourned and prayed, so should we. Prayer is a bloody battleground, where violent and decisive conflicts are fought over the souls of men and women, boys and girls in time and eternity…

C.S. Lewis saw 2 errors…basically ignoring the reality of devils or becoming overly consumed with them. We tend towards the former. In some ways, I think it’s easier to believe in God than the devil, even though a great deal of Jesus’ ministry was casting out demons. Most of us are functioning atheists when it comes to the dark side and its minions. And I believe that’s why many of us are defeated and enslaved by sin so easily. We are totally unaware that we are in a battle. Not fun to think about, but…the good news is, if you have trusted in Jesus, you, like Daniel, are highly esteemed (greatly beloved). Jesus has already won the day. At the cross, He conquered sin, death, and all the forces of darkness. Jesus promised, “Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.” Jesus has already defeated the strong man and plundered his house. So when spiritual warfare comes, and it will, we are not to fear, but to pray, like Daniel, to the One who has already rescued us, Jesus, the Head-crushing Seed of the woman. And now we wait, as Daniel did, for Jesus’ return.

If you have not trusted in Jesus, know that only He can rescue you from the spiritual forces of wickedness that are fighting for your soul and are holding you in bondage. And He longs to rescue you if you will simply believe in Him…that He died in your place as a substitute for your sin, your rebellion against God. When you believe in Him, He rescues you from sin and death and gives you life eternal with Him in His kingdom. Don’t wait. Trust in Jesus today.

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 Restoration Process Part 1

Daniel 9.1-19

We are going to do something a little bit different in response to the passage this week…I want to invite you to follow Daniel’s example and pray. We’ll use Daniel’s prayer as a guide.

We’ll start with adoration…in adoration we praise God’s character. “I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, ‘O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments… 7Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord…9To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness…” Now spend a few minutes praising God for who He is in your own words.

Next we’ll move to confession…in confession we acknowledge our sins against God and against others. I love the fact that Daniel includes himself in his prayer (we 8x), acknowledging, “I’m part of the problem, fix me.” “5we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land. 7Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day— to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10nor have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14Therefore the LORD has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the LORD our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.” Now spend a few moments confessing where you’ve blown it in your relationship with God and others. Then move to a time of confessing where we as a church have blown it…both as a local expression and as the church in America.

Next we’ll move to thanksgiving…in thanksgiving we thank God for what He has done. “15And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day.” Spend a few minutes thanking God for His work in your life, in the life of our church and in the nation.

Finally supplication…in supplication we bring our requests before God, humbly yet boldly approaching the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Faith believes, accepts and approaches God as our covenant God in and through Jesus. “16O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. 17So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. 18O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.” Now spend some time praying for our nation…for our leaders, just laws, for repentance, restoration and revival, for the recent Supreme Court decisions, for wisdom on how we should respond as a church…how we can best engage the culture, remembering that there is only one eternal kingdom. All the kingdoms of the earth will one day fall…our hope is not in the things of this world, but in the One who came to rescue us and lead us to the eternal kingdom…King Jesus, the Head-crushing Seed of the woman. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

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