Israel’s Accountablity

Romans 10.14-21

How beautiful the feet of those who bring good news of good things! Israel had every ingredient necessary for salvation but one…faith. God had sent messengers to proclaim the good news. Those messengers had preached the gospel to the people. The people heard…but they did not believe. And because they did not believe, they did not call upon the name of the Lord. They didn’t trust in Jesus.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve talked about God’s sovereignty. A very weighty topic for sure…for whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. And whom He predestined, these He also called. And whom He called, these He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified. God chooses…and yet we have a choice. In fact, Paul makes it clear that Israel had every opportunity…so they are without excuse. They chose to reject God’s mercy.

We have a part to play in this divine drama. Like Paul and his traveling buddies and the rest of the Apostles, we have a job to do…a mission to complete. To share our story. To tell folks the good news. The gospel. The reason for the hope that we have. God has put you in a unique position to reach the folks he’s placed in your life. Some will never come to church. They won’t hear unless you tell them.

I remember when I was working for Waste Management in Houston that it struck me…most of the folks I was working with didn’t go to church. They weren’t believers. As far as I know, I was the only Christian influence in their lives. So if they didn’t hear about Jesus from me, where would they hear about Him? And so I became intentional about looking for opportunities to share my story. And over the years, God opened up windows of opportunity to talk to most of them that I worked closely with.

We want to partner with you as you make an impact for the Kingdom. Two helpful tools I want to mention…both can be found on our website at centralchristian.org. The first is: “Your Story”. It’s a great tool for helping you think through and articulate your story…not your biography, your testimony. Once you’ve written out your story, pray about who to share it with and ask God for opportunities.

That leads us to the second resource which is: “Your Impact List”. These are the folks that God has placed in your sphere of influence who need to hear the good news. It could be people from work, school, neighbors, family, friends, etc. A good way to start is to pray and ask God to bring to mind folks you need to reach out to, and then write their names down on Your Impact List. A printable version is available on our website. You can stick it to your fridge, your mirror, put it in your Bible or journal. Wherever you’ll regularly see it and remember to pray for those people and to look for opportunities to share your story with them.

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

Whoever Will Call Upon the Name of the Lord

Romans 10.1-13

God’s righteousness…His right-standingness…has always been a matter of faith. It has to be. Because we could never achieve a right standing before God on our own. Sin gets in the way every time.

Salvation is and has always been by faith. Faith in God. Trusting His promises. Looking for Messiah…for the Savior. Believing in Him now that He’s come. By faith we enter into a relationship with God. By faith we also continue our relationship with God. The Christian life is one of faith.

But here’s the thing…faith is more than just acknowledging a set of facts. It’s hearing and acting on what you’ve heard. It’s believing and walking in belief. It’s trusting in Him…and then obeying. A heart rightly aligned to God wants to obey. One that isn’t doesn’t. You weren’t saved just to go to heaven. If so, you’d already be there. You were saved to do the good works He’s given you to do. To walk in obedience. To share your story. To live generously.

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

What About Israel? Part 2

Romans 9.19-33

Two great truths collide in this passage…God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Both are true. God chooses and yet we have a choice. Nothing happens contrary to God’s purposes and yet we can’t say, “It’s not my fault.”

But we don’t want to miss Paul’s point…he’s not trying to create a Gordian knot for theologians to argue and debate over. He ultimately wants to bring us back to the gospel…to God’s love and His mercy, His patience even with those who reject Him, and His plan to redeem His creation.

The idea of God’s sovereignty often causes folks to immediately question His fairness. And yet if God acted on the basis of fairness, none of us would be saved. It’s not fair that any of us would receive His mercy. We all deserve to be vessels of wrath destined for destruction because of our sin. It’s only His mercy that allows even one of us to be a vessel of mercy…to make known the riches of His glory to a watching world.

Mercy and wrath. Heaven and hell. Definitely not topics that folks like to talk about these days, and yet it’s imperative that we understand that one day we will all have to give an accounting for the lives that we lived. The only determiner of our final destination will be whether or not we trusted in Jesus. If you have, you are a vessel of mercy prepared beforehand for glory. If you have not, you are still under God’s wrath. So will you choose to trust in Jesus today?

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

Victory in Jesus

Romans 8.28-39

Confidence in the right thing makes all the difference. For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our confidence is in exactly the right place. Not in ourselves or in anything that we’ve done, but in Jesus and all that He’s done on our behalf. From beginning to end, our salvation is secured.

Paul wants us to be encouraged…what God has started, even before the foundation of the world, He will bring to completion. If we have trusted in Jesus, we can be assured that one day we will reign with Him in His kingdom.

No doubt suffering will come…everyone who walks this planet has suffered, is suffering or will suffer. Guaranteed. But the difference is this…for those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our suffering is not wasted. God is using it to make us more like Jesus. And not only is our suffering not wasted, but in the midst of our suffering, we never have to doubt God’s love for us. The Spirit is constantly interceding for us (along with Jesus) and is pouring out God’s love within our hearts.

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

The Glory to Come

Romans 8.18-27

In this in-between time, this already/not yet time that we live in, we eagerly await the glory to come. And as we do, whether in good times or in bad, we have the Spirit who not only empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body, but who is also praying for us in the midst of our waiting…our groaning and suffering. He is battling on our behalf. And He will see us through to glory.

Suffering before glory…it’s the reality of the world that we live in today. It’s true for us as believers, but it’s also true for all of creation. The world as it is is not what God originally intended. It’s under the curse, waiting eagerly as are we, the revelation of God’s glory and the redemption that is to come.

So while we wait, we pray. We share our stories. We share the hope that we have. You see, though we groan…in our suffering, we have a hope that this world cannot offer. A hope that the Hero has already won the day and that one day we will reign with Him. A hope that we must share…we must share… with a lost a dying world. And while sharing that hope, we minister to those around us who are in need. We point them to Jesus.

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

Living Generously

Ephesians 4.1-16

We all have a part to play when it comes to preserving unity. Not just some of us…all of us. But within this unity there is diversity. We have all been given gifts for the mutual building up of the body, the Church. Gifted leaders equipping the saints for works of service… Each of us has to do our part.

This passage always reminds me of when Jack and I decided to try tae kwon do. The first day we entered the dojo aka YMCA, it was clear that the goal was for us to be black belts. Even though there were a number of them present, the sensei didn’t consider his job done until we all crossed the finished line and mastered the art. The idea in this passage is very similar…it’s not about one of us making it to maturity. It’s a group project. The job’s not done until we all attain to the unity of the faith… 

If you have trusted in Jesus, He has given you a spiritual gift. A gift that He expects that you will use to build up His body. Every gift is unique…even the same gift is given in differing measures. But each gift is needed for the body to function properly, and each gift is needed to be exercised to its full measure for the body to grow. Each of us is called to be a steward…not only of our resources, but also of the spiritual gifts that God has given us. Reminds me of the parable of the talents. Not everyone got the same number to start with, but each was expected to invest what they were given in the kingdom. So are we.

Being equipped for works of service is not just so that we can serve each other, although that is super important. But part of building up the body is bringing in folks who once were lost but now have been found. Let me suggest that maybe, just maybe, our primary ministry is outside the walls of the church building. It’s in the marketplace and in the schoolyard. It’s with our families and our friends. It’s when we walk outside these doors. And maybe our coming together as a church is like going to the gym. You come here to train…to prepare for the fight, to get ready for the big race. And after doing your bag work, the speed and agility drills, maybe a little foot work…once you walk out those doors, ministry starts. All of life is ministry. Opportunities abound to share our story and to introduce folks to Jesus.

So let me challenge you with two last words…first, if you are not using your spiritual gifts in some way to build up the church and serve others, we need you. We have provided a tool on our website (centralchristian.org) called SHAPE to help you discover not only your spiritual gifts, but also to help you identify areas that are a good fit you in serving.

Second, if you are not yet a part of a community group, let me encourage you to join one. CGs are one of the best ways to use your gifts and build one another up.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Sharing Your Story

Luke 8.26-39

Having just calmed a violent storm at sea, Jesus meets a man with an equally violent storm raging within him. In both cases Jesus is able to squash the chaos with a word. It would be easy to come to the conclusion that Luke is showcasing Jesus’ power and authority over both the natural and supernatural worlds. And he does that, but I think Luke is driving us to something even more powerful…you see, beyond the power of Jesus is the love of Jesus. Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea and faces down the forces of hell for one man! Did you get that? Jesus crosses a violent, storm-tossed sea and faces down the forces of hell for one man! O what a Savior! And having rescued him, He sends him on a mission to share his story – of “what great things God had done for him.”

I love this story. It’s a beautiful picture of the lengths that Jesus goes to to seek and save the lost…

Crossed the sea (calmed the storm, etc.)

Faced off with the hosts of hell

Braved the potential backlash of a frightened mob

For one man

Jesus is still on a rescue mission, pulling folks out of the fires of hell. Setting the captives free. And as those who have been set free, He calls us to join Him in that same mission. To share our story…of what great things Jesus has done for us.

Though we may not have been as bad off as the demoniac in this story, before Jesus we were all just as lost. We were all held captive in the kingdom of darkness. We were all without hope and in desperate need of rescue. And only Jesus could do that.

So what is your story, and who can you share it with? Jesus sent the man back to his home town to share with those closest to him what God had done for him. Sounds a lot like our impact list…those folks who are closest to us who don’t know Jesus. Could be friends or family, neighbors, co-workers, classmates or teammates. If you have trusted in Jesus, then you have a story to tell.

And as I think back over my own story, I’m reminded…Jesus changes everything. He wants to change everything in our lives if we will let Him. But we have to be intentional about pursuing Him. We have to make the choice…training, not trying. Quality time in His Word everyday aka Daily Devotion. Praying throughout the day aka Consistent Prayer. And time with other believers as often as possible aka Intentional Community. And when we do that we find that He’s been pursuing us all along…the Good Shepherd looking for the one lost sheep.

Let me challenge you with two last words…first, take time this week to write out your story. On our website you can find a template that will walk you through putting together Your Story. Take your time…don’t rush. Pray over it and ask God to direct you through the process.

Second, prayerfully consider who you need to share your story with. Who do you know that hasn’t yet trusted in Jesus? Pray for opportunities and ask God for courage in the moment to take advantage of those opportunities when they come.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Intentional Community

Hebrew 10.19-25

I came across this poem the other day…“Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, But has trouble enough of its own. Sing, and the hills will answer; Sigh, it is lost on the air. The echoes bound to a joyful sound, But shrink from voicing care. Rejoice, and men will seek you; Grieve, and they turn and go. They want full measure of all your pleasure, But they do not need your woe. Be glad, and your friends are many; Be sad, and you lose them all. There are none to decline your nectared wine, But alone you must drink life’s gall. Feast, and your halls are crowded; Fast, and the world goes by. Succeed and give, and it helps you live, But no man can help you die. There is room in the halls of pleasure For a long and lordly train, But one by one we must all file on Through the narrow aisles of pain.” The poem is called Solitude. Striking because it paints and all-to-real and painful picture of what motivates the fallen world we live in to gather together…we may think it’s because they care about us or that they support our “cause”, but it’s really all about “me” (when it benefits “me”, when it makes “me” feel good, when it’s fun…when it serves “me”).

Quite different from what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 4.9-12, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” There is a synergy that exists when we pursue Jesus together…when we gather together. Synergy simply means that the total is greater than the sum of the parts. 1+1=3. It’s the way God’s designed it. We run faster, jump higher, reach more folks…we do better together.

But one of the greatest dangers to that synergy is divisiveness. We live in a divided world. Race is just one aspect. But the world around us divides over money or jobs or schools or college football…it divides over any and all kinds of things. So we should not be surprised when the world is divisive…why would we expect unbelievers to act any differently than…well, unbelievers. But when believers act like unbelievers, when believers become divisive…it’s extremely troubling. How does Paul say it in Galatians 3.28? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you/(we) are all one in Christ Jesus.” It’s not that diversity disappears…God created a very diverse world. A beautiful world. No, it’s that diversity should lead to unity (think of a tapestry)…a very unique kind of unity because it is not based on any of the things the world bases sameness or “unity” on. It’s a unity that is only possible through Jesus. He unites us. Reminds me of a story I read…

EMPEROR VALERIAN ordered the death of Christian leaders in Rome (258AD). An old story tells that the deacon Lawrence was one Christian brought before the Roman prefect (magistrate) in charge of carrying out the order. The prefect knew that, as a deacon, Lawrence had charge of church money. He promised Lawrence his freedom if he would hand over the church’s wealth. 

Lawrence agreed to bring the church’s treasures to the prefect. “But it will take me a few days,” he said. “The church is very rich.” 

Actually, Lawrence had distributed the Church’s possessions to the poor. On the third day he appeared before the prefect. “Come out and see the wondrous riches of God,” he urged. 

When the prefect emerged he saw not wagons full of gold, but a gathering of Rome’s lame, its blind, and its beggars. He demanded to know the meaning of the assemblage.  Lawrence replied that these poor people would some day have glorious bodies and live forever in Heaven. They were jars of clay in which were hidden the treasure of the Holy Spirit…

The church has always been the place of the also-rans, the not-good-enoughs, the down trodden and oppressed, the less-thans…those the world has overlooked. Sinners like you and me. Folks from every walk of life united by their need for a Savior and their love for Jesus.

Reminds me of the scene in God’s throne room in Revelation 7 where folks from every tribe and people and tongue and nation are gathered around the throne worshiping God together forever. The church should be a foretaste of that today…and when it’s not, shame on us.

Let me challenge you with two last words…first, make the weekend services at your local church a priority. It’s the time that we gather as a body to worship God together, both digitally and physically, to be encouraged and to be challenged, to be recharged and equipped. But come expecting God to do something. Come expecting to worship…to give rather than just receive. Come looking for the opportunity to serve those around you whether it’s at home (digitally) or on campus…maybe a kind word, a warm fist bump (handshake/hug), a prayer…but come.

Second, if you are not yet a part of a community group, now’s a great time to join one. Community groups are one of the best ways to experience intentional community. Check with your local church for details.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Consistent Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 reminds us of who God is. So when we come to Him in prayer, we can thank Him for taking care of us…leading and guiding us, directing us, providing for our needs, protecting us, His presence with us.

We can have confidence in our everyday life with God when it sinks in that He really is for us. No matter what our circumstances may be…no matter what our enemies may say…God is greater. He is greater than anyone or anything. So if we really believe that…if we really believe that God is greater, if we believe that He is committed to our good, if we believe that He is pursuing us and that He is fierce in His love for us…like Paul says in Romans 8…that nothing can separate us from His love, we too can face the darkest valleys with unflinching courage knowing that our Shepherd is there with us. In fact He’s gone before us and is showing us the way if we will only follow… And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? That is our confidence in prayer.

When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.

It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.

The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.

One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m walking in the mornings (because the gym’s closed), when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. I like what a guy named William Law said about it…“He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection[1726], London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)

Someone asked me, is prayer for us or for God? What an interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbor…face-to-face, on the phone, by text, or even by zoom…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things, our Shepherd who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.

But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a DVM…Divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He is leading us through the darkest valleys, never leaving us alone, but seeing us through to green pastures and quiet waters. And as Paul says in Romans 8, somehow and in someway He’s working it together for our good.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God for? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they’re the same questions I’ve asked at some point on my spiritual journey. I do think the things we ask God for are important, but primarily for this reason…they reveal where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to transform us to live and love like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and consistent time spent in prayer just talking to your Father. Both that and time spent in His Word…

Two last words…first, while personal time in prayer is super important, pro tip…time in prayer with other believers leads to even greater gains. It’s in prayer that we can lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice and weep together…share our hopes and dreams, doubts and fears with each other. A community group or small group is a great avenue for that.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is another great way to lead your families. Maybe share prayer requests/concerns/praises at the dinner table. Spend some time praying for each other. Doesn’t have to be long. Find time to pray with your wife. Fiercely pursue and protect the oneness that God calls you to as a couple.

(A couple of resources that you might find helpful…ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), prayer guides on YouVersion/bible.com, Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer (praying scripture), Psalms as prayers.)

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

Paul says it this way in Romans 12.2, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” By spending quality time in God’s Word every day, the Spirit takes the truth that we have read and begins to transform us, so that whatever the situation, we can discern what it is that God would have us do.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile. But if you skip going to the gym for a time, or running or riding your bike, or whatever your exercise of choice, you will quickly find out how much you’ve lost. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. I think we’ve all experienced those things over the last several months in lockdown. If we don’t use it, we lose it. The same is true spiritually…if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

So, if you suspect that might be you…that you might be a spiritual “infant”…how do you begin your path to maturity? Start training today with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying. If you are trying, then you may be tempted to give up when you fail. But the beauty of training is that failure is built into the process. So take the long view. Try, fail, try again, fail better, and repeat…

Where to start reading? What do you like to read? Do you like poetry? Start with Psalms. Do you like wisdom literature, pithy sayings? Then, Proverbs. Action? Genesis or 1 Samuel or Mark. But read the Bible and not just about the Bible. What I mean by that is…many folks read devotional books and count that as their Bible time. Devotional books are great, but don’t let them replace your Bible. Pick a book and start. Work your way up to the heavier books like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Romans or Revelation. Pray before you start that God will help you put into practice what you’re learning. And if you miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up, just start again.

Two last words, both are applicable to every one of the five marks of a disciple…first, while personal time in the Word is super important, pro tip…time in the Word with other believers leads to even greater gains. The Bible was written to a community of believers and that’s how it’s best understood and applied. If you are not a part of a community group but would like to be, we have a number of groups starting this fall. You can connect right now through the online chat on our website. Just go to centralchristian.org and click on the chat box near the bottom of the page and you’ll be connected to a host right away.

Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is a great opportunity for you to begin to lead your families. Share with your wife and your kids what God is teaching you through His Word, and encourage them to do the same. Maybe read a Proverb a day together…

Let’s press on to maturity then, spending quality time daily in God’s Word, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we might live and love like Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster