Confrontation in Jerusalem

Acts 21.17-40

Paul’s return to Jerusalem starts with celebration but ends in chains. Although his teaching is called into question, he demonstrates by his actions the unity that he desires for the Church…for both Jewish and Gentile believers. Meanwhile unbelieving Jews from Ephesus falsely accuse him of defiling the temple.

It’s difficult not to react and even overreact when we are misunderstood. We often want to justify or redirect or defend or deny. And in the process we tend to complicate things and make them much worse. We repay evil for evil, insult for insult. We want to be understood without taking time to understand the other person. That’s why I love that Paul didn’t launch into a diatribe seeking to defend himself. He simply cleared up the misunderstanding by his actions. We can definitely learn something from Paul in this…he was no pushover. We’ve seen that over and over. He just genuinely loved his people.

And I think that love is evident in Paul’s willingness to participate in the Nazirite vow. Paul never stopped being Jewish, but he wasn’t a slave to it. I love what he says in 1 Corinthians 9.19-22, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” For Paul, the gospel was worth it. It was worth giving up his rights. It was worth being misunderstood. It was worth suffering for.

Sometimes our misunderstandings are with those who like us…friends or family including our church family, etc. And sometimes our misunderstandings are with those who don’t like us…maybe at all. The goal isn’t to prove that we are right and they are wrong, but peace and harmony, truth in love…unity and ultimately pointing them to Jesus.

Paul didn’t defend himself…neither did Jesus. Peter says it this way, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2.21-24).

Let me challenge you this week to look for the mutual win. To understand before being understood. To expect the best in others and maybe, just maybe, inspire the best in them. Even if you are misunderstood.

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

Going to Jerusalem

Acts 21.1-16

Paul finishes up his third and final missionary journey and reaches Jerusalem. Along the way he’s had the opportunity to meet with fellow believers…brothers and sisters…whom he’s been able to encourage, but who have also warned him of the impending danger to come.

Twice the Spirit has revealed to folks along Paul’s path that trouble awaits him in Jerusalem. For Paul it’s nothing new…he’s met with trouble at almost every turn. Suffering has been an expected part of his journey. And yet his well-meaning friends want to spare him from it.

Kind of reminds me of this interchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew. Right after Peter makes his historic proclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16.16), we are told…“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ 23But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matthew 16.21-23).

That must have been shocking for Peter to hear! Especially after getting it so right. I think too often we are like Peter…suffering doesn’t feel like winning. If Jesus already conquered sin and death at the cross, then why should we suffer? If we are on the winning side, what gives? We want the glory…but the suffering? No thank you. And yet because we live in a world which has declared open war against its Creator…a world enthralled by the great serpent of old who is the devil and Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of the sons of disobedience…we will suffer. There will always be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman…between those who reject God and those who follow Him.

Too often I think we are under the mistaken impression that God’s will for us is happiness as we define it. You might have heard it said, “God wants me to be happy. Therefore if I’m not happy then I’m not in God’s will.” Or “Suffering causes me pain, and surely God doesn’t want me to be in pain. Therefore suffering can’t be God’s will for me.” And so we make it about us and not about Him. We are the main character in the Story. That’s a dangerous place to be. Especially given that suffering is a prominent theme throughout the NT. Of course I’m talking about suffering for following Jesus and not suffering that comes as the predictable outcome…the consequence…of questionable choices (1 Peter 4).

Jesus’ definition of happiness…Matthew 5.3-12, “Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed (happy) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed (happy) are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed (happy) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed (happy) are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed (happy) are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed (happy) are you when people insult you and persecute you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So the question is, knowing that suffering is a part of the deal, will we resolve to follow Jesus no matter what? Let me be clear…we don’t choose suffering, we choose to follow Jesus. Suffering is just a predictable outcome of making that choice.

Let me challenge you this week to make that choice…maybe write it in a journal or on a Post-It note. Put it somewhere where you are going to see it. Set a reminder on your phone. “Today I’m going to follow Jesus…no matter what!”

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

Goodbye Ephesus

Acts 20.17-38

Paul says goodbye to his friends at Ephesus. In his absence, he warns them of the need to be ever vigilant…to stay true to both the teaching and the living out of the Word.

Last words are lasting words, and Paul’s last words to the folks from Ephesus are a reminder of the spiritual battle that rages all around us, of the importance of truth, of our need to stand our ground. Unfortunately these Ephesian believers experienced the consequences of not heeding Paul’s warning. Within a decade or so, Paul writes to Timothy “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, 4nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1.3-4).

When we lose sight of the spiritual battle around us, we become easy prey for the Enemy. When we let down our guard, we become more susceptible to his attacks, often not even recognizing them as attacks but as “bad luck” or “unfortunate circumstances”. We also become less dependent on God, which might mean less time in His Word and/or less time in prayer. Less time with other believers. On our own and vulnerable.

When we compromise on the truth of God’s Word because it’s uncomfortable or unpopular, it won’t be long until we begin to compromise in all areas of faith and doctrine. Soon truth becomes relative…what feels good must be right…and the difference between the world in here and the world out there becomes negligible.

That’s true for the church…but it’s also true for us as individuals. How intentional are you in following Jesus? Are you running the race or just wandering around in your spiritual walk? What impact is God’s Word having on your life? Is it causing you to think and act differently? Are there parts of Scripture that you refuse to believe because they don’t agree with your or the culture’s worldview?

My challenge for you this week…take one intentional step in your Christian walk by… Praying. Reading the Word. Spending time with fellow believers. Sharing your story. Helping/Serving someone else. Giving generously to someone in need. Inviting someone to come along with you on the discipleship journey.

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

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

Acts 20.1-16

As Paul finishes up his third missionary journey, the kingdom impact he’s had on the Mediterranean World is evidenced by the folks who accompany him on his way.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered or what do you want to be remembered for? My dad wanted to leave behind a family business for generations to come…or at least for his kids. And while his business was somewhat successful, the getting the kids-turned-adults involved part never really worked out.

Maybe the legacy you want to leave isn’t in the marketplace…maybe you don’t have a family business to pass on. Maybe it’s a significant contribution to your field of expertise. Maybe it’s your kids and your grandkids. Unfortunately, all of those legacies have one thing in common. They all fade with time. But there is a legacy that you can leave that will never fade. It’s the kingdom impact you have on another person. Sharing your story and then bringing them along as you follow Jesus…you may have heard it called discipleship. Bringing someone one step closer to Jesus.

Paul never did ministry alone, and he continually invested in the lives of those he was bringing along. So who are your traveling buddies? Who are you following Jesus with? And who are you bringing along? Who are you building into? Who are you teaching about the faith? Who are you challenging to bring another along? Who are you passing the baton to?

Let me challenge you with this this week…if you are not involved in a small group or community group of some kind, get involved. If you are not investing time bringing someone else along in the faith, pray about who that might be and then be intentional about building into their 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

A Riot at Ephesus

Acts 19.21-41

Paul prepares to leave Ephesus to return to Jerusalem and then on to Rome. But before he can leave, a riot breaks out in the city. The gospel is transforming lives, which is proving to have an adverse effect on the local economy.

The gospel is good news. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who believe in Him have forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a new heart and God’s Spirit living within them. They pass from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…they are not who they used to be. Jesus changes everything!

For the folks at Ephesus, that meant confessing their sins and making a clean break with their past…no more magic, but also no more Artemis worship. And it made an impact on their city. The impact can be seen in two different ways. First there’s the number of folks who believe, then there’s the radical change in their behavior. One or two or a handful whose behavior is radically changed will have an impact, but probably not enough to cause a riot. And a great number of folks whose behavior changes a little will have an impact, but again probably not enough to cause a riot. But when you combine those two…a large number of people who are radically changed…then you have the recipe for a riot.

So I wonder what kind of impact we are having on our community, and is it the impact we want to have…are we causing a stir by the way we follow Jesus? Are we disrupting the economy of those who are peddlers of sin and bad choices? The Ephesian Christians caused a stir, not by picketing outside Demetrius’ shop and not by running a smear campaign against Artemis. How did they cause a stir? By living a different kind of life. A noticeably different kind of life. A life marked by the gospel and transformed by God’s grace. And if we want to make an impact on our community for good, that’s where it starts…by living lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and sharing the hope that we have with those around us who so desperately need it. So let me challenge you this week…If one or two of us live lives that have been radically transformed by the gospel of God’s grace and share the hope that we have with others, we’ll have an impact…but if a thousand of us do it, we’ll have a riot. Let’s start a riot!

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

Paul at Ephesus

Acts 19.1-20

Paul returns to Ephesus where he will set up his base of operations for this his third and final missionary journey. Nothing like pitching your tent outside the Enemy’s stronghold as you make your assault on the forces of darkness.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is powerful both in word and in deed. Miracles abound…miracles of healing and casting out demons. Miracles that show the power of God over the demonic realm. The gates of hell cannot prevail against Jesus’ Church. In the battle between light and darkness, miracles and magic…it is the name of Jesus that is magnified. He has already won the victory.

As that truth dawned on these Ephesian believers, they were convicted of their sin…of the past they were still holding on to…and they did something about it. They made a clean break. So I want to challenge you with something this week…what is it that you need to confess and make a clean break from? What sin are you holding on to? For them the clean break meant destroying the objects that had caused them to stumble. What might that look like for you?

Take the next few minutes to confess whatever sin it is that you are holding on to and to turn it over to Jesus and ask Him what a clean break looks like for you. And then this week take the next step…whatever that might be…follow through and make a clean break.

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

Aquila and Priscilla

Acts 18.18-28

Paul rounds out his second missionary journey and begins his third with renewed vigor. Having left Aquila and Priscilla behind in Ephesus, Paul is anxious to return there after visiting Jerusalem, Antioch and the churches he had planted along the way. Meanwhile Aquila and Priscilla are able to encourage and equip Apollos, a man who will prove to be a great asset to the Church and the preaching of the gospel.

While it would be easy to gloss over much of what happens in this story, there are subtle details that we might miss…reminders that this is the story that God is telling. The story of His Church. Paul takes Aquila and Priscilla with him from Corinth. He drops them off in Ephesus as he heads back East. Meanwhile a guy named Apollos shows up one Sabbath at the synagogue where Aquila and Priscilla are worshiping. They are able to instruct him and encourage him. And because of their connections to the church in Corinth, they are able to pave the way for him to begin a powerful ministry there. It’s no accident. God’s fingerprints are all over this story. Just as His fingerprints are all over your story.

The goal of marriage is this thing called becoming one and pursuing the purpose for which God created and called and saved you. Pursuing holiness rather than happiness…knowing that holiness, or living life the way God intended, brings true and lasting happiness.

Aquila and Priscilla are an example of a couple who got it, the only example in the NT to my recollection…who understood that marriage really is ministry. That when we put Jesus at the center of our marriage…when He’s our greatest pleasure and our highest good…then it becomes more natural for us to want to do the things that please Him. We’re on the hunt for opportunities to encourage and build up and strengthen and serve and help and love on others. Of course that’s very countercultural.

You see the norm is represented by another famous, or maybe better infamous, couple in the book of Acts…Ananias and Sapphira. Remember in Acts 5, the early church in Jerusalem is experiencing tremendous growth and folks are looking out for others, selling stuff and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to those in need. Ananias and Sapphira hatch a plan…they like the attention they’ll get by participating, but they don’t really want to part with their stuff, so they sell some property and bring only a portion of the money to the Apostles. Now bringing only a portion of the proceeds wouldn’t have been wrong, except that they somehow gave the impression that they brought the full amount of the sale. Greed and pride will get you every time. For them it literally cost them their lives. Unfortunately for many couples…even Christian couples…it’s more about the appearance of doing good than the actual practice of good.

Happiness vs. Holiness…they may seem antithetical, but God’s designed it so that we realize our greatest happiness…our greatest fulfillment in life, in our marriages, in our work or whatever…when we realize it in Him, when we put Him at the center. Just like Aquila and Priscilla.

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