Essentials: Generosity

Luke 20.45-21.4

God’s economy is different than ours. The widow’s offering is a reminder that God is not looking at the size of the gift, but the motivation behind giving it. God’s not after our money, but us. And yet we cannot give ourselves to Him without giving everything to Him, including our stuff.

Throughout church history, generosity has been one of the defining characteristics of Christianity. The care of the poor, the first hospitals and schools, leper colonies, providing for widows and orphans, for the downtrodden and left behind…all witnesses to the power and provision of God. Just as our Father is generous, He wants us to be generous too. Because of our so great salvation, our thankful and happy hearts should loosen our grip on our stuff and free us up to give…and to give generously. In fact, we as believers should be the most generous folks on the planet!

But so often we’re not. Maybe it’s because we have too low a view of God. Maybe we’re afraid to trust Him because deep down inside we believe Him to be stingy…that somehow He might hold out on us. And if we give away what we have, there won’t be enough for us. Yeah…but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints of who God is…think about the number of stars in the heavens, the number of galaxies, the greatness and vastness of space. In the Genesis account, when God creates the sun, moon and stars, what is their purpose? To give light to the earth, and for signs and for seasons. Seems to be a bit extravagant, doesn’t it?

What about God’s grace and His mercy and His love? His boundless, immeasurable love? The cross where the sins of all mankind were placed on His beloved Son. Every sin atoned for. Every one. So that all might be saved…if they will believe in Jesus.

So if God is so incredibly generous in these things…both in creation and in redemption, then why would He be stingy in providing for our needs? Our generosity problem has nothing to do with our wealth or lack thereof. The widow was certainly not rich by anyone’s standards. It has everything to do with our faith and obedience. So the question is, do you trust God enough to give generously?

If so, where might you start? Well, if you’ve never given before or have only given sporadically, then start by being intentional. Sit down with your family and pick an amount and give that amount regularly. Maybe sign up for online giving. Revisit your giving throughout the year to see how you’re doing. If you’ve been a consistent giver, make it a goal to increase that amount…shoot for generous. Watch how God provides. Strive to become a generous giver, not a bigger barn builder. Remember God gives generously to us so that we can then give generously to others. When we invest in the kingdom, it pays eternal dividends.

Here at Central we are striving to be generous with our finances, too. We give away 20% of our budget…both locally and globally through missions and, soon, through church planting. Definitely something to celebrate. I know some folks in Japan who are thanking God for your generosity!

Make 2020 the year that generous giving becomes a priority for you…just like the poor widow.

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This post is based on our January Series, Essentials. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Essentials: Salvation

Ephesians 2.1-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. A dead man can’t do anything to save himself…he’s dead! He must be made alive again.

The bad news…if you have not yet trusted in Jesus, you are dead. Your sin has killed you. And if something doesn’t change, nothing will change. You will remain dead. Separated from God forever. Not a very pretty picture. In fact it’s a very grim picture. An unsettling picture. But an accurate picture. The bad news is you’re as bad off as you can possibly be.

The good news…Jesus came to change all of that. He came to give you life. He has already taken care of the sin problem so that through faith in Him, you can be saved by His magnificent grace. Salvation that not only impacts your eternal destiny, but also transforms your present reality. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are saved to bring glory to the One who saved us…to highlight His goodness and His grace and His mercy and His love. So why not trust Jesus today?

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This post is based on our January Series, Essentials. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Essentials: Scripture

2 Peter 1.3-9

Being transformed to live and love like Jesus is the ultimate goal of the Christian life. The good news is, we’ve been equipped with everything we need to pursue this life…the Scriptures and the Spirit. Peter even gives us some hand and footholds, a list of virtues from faith to love.

I know we all want to finish well…we want our lives to have an impact for the kingdom. And some of you are having a huge impact right now. I think of those who are volunteering in our children’s and youth ministries, those who are leading community groups or small groups, those who are serving the homeless, or are leading in any number of other ministries that take place on our campus. Keep after it. The race is not done…we haven’t crossed the goal line. It’s hard work to finish well, but it’s worth it.

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 skipped going to the gym for a time, or didn’t run or ride your bike , you find out pretty quickly how easy it is to lose ground. 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. It’s true in every area of life…if we don’t use it, we lose it. So how do we miss it spiritually? It should be obvious that 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.

What if that’s you? Maybe you started out well, or maybe not so well, and now you’re wondering what to do. Peter would say, “I know you’ve messed up. I know you’ve failed Jesus. So did I…” but the good news is, you can still finish well. How? Get back to the basics. Begin today to pursue godliness…to spend time in the Bible getting to know God, not just getting to know about Him, but really knowing Him and doing what He says. Start 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…

Let’s resolve to make consistent time in the Word a priority in 2020.

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This post is based on our January Series, Essentials. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Fall on Your Knees

Revelation 12

What does a celestial woman with child and a great red dragon have to do with Christmas and the theme of Fall on Your Knees? Glad you asked. This time of year the Church has traditionally celebrated Advent…which means “Coming”. While Christmas no doubt reminds us of the First Advent when Jesus came as a Baby to a young couple in Bethlehem, our hope as believers is that He will come again…this time as King.

In the cosmic conflict…the heavenly war that is raging…there are only two sides. You are either for the King or against Him. There is no middle ground. And there’s only One/one to whom you can fall on your knees. Either the true King or the pretender. The tricky thing is…the pretender is good at what he does. Pretending. He’s a deceiver, so often while it might look like he’s winning…our world in chaos…he’s already lost.

As believers, it often feels like we are on the losing side. The pressure to conform to this world…already so pervasive in the church…is everywhere present. Hollywood. Social media. Politics. Materialism… The fear of persecution, whatever form that might take…being passed over for promotion or losing a job, ridiculed at school, belittled by your family or friends…is real. So what do we do? Don’t give up, don’t give in, Jesus wins. Don’t give up because of persecution, don’t give in to compromise, because Jesus has already won.

May you remember that this Christmas season…the battle is already won…and may you fall on your knees before the true King, Jesus.

Join us as we continue our Advent story with…The Night When Christ Was Born.

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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

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 Weary World Rejoices

2 Samuel 7.8-16

David was a great king in many ways. He was fearless and passionate, strong and brave. He loved the Lord and his family. But David wasn’t the King God had promised. Solomon, his son, was also an outstanding king. Maybe even greater than his father. His wisdom was renowned. He was a brilliant strategist. He was wealthy beyond imagination. But he too fell far short of the King God had promised. There have been many kings and great leaders throughout history, but as amazing as anyone of them may have been, none comes even close to our coming King. He’s the King of righteousness and the King of peace. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He alone will rule over the nations of this earth. And when He comes, the weary world will rejoice.

The good news is…the King has come. Jesus has come…and for a time the weary world rejoiced. The long-awaited Messiah, the Davidic King, the Hero…had come, but not as a Mighty Warrior or a Roaring Lion. He came as a helpless Babe, a Sacrificial Lamb. He came to bring peace…a peace that was only possible through His own shed blood. A peace that could only be had when sin was atoned for and death was defeated. A peace that was only available through the cross. And having secured that peace, three days later Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered both sin and death so that our hope…our long awaited hope…could be realized. And so the weary world rejoices.

In Romans 8.18-25, Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

We live in the midst of a weary world. A world that longs for peace. A world that longs for wrongs to be righted. A world that longs for a Savior. But it is a world seeking salvation in all the wrong things…wealth, politics, fame, advantage, relationships, you-name-it. And we too sometimes get caught up in the world’s solutions, don’t we? But what this weary world needs is only available in Jesus…only He can bring peace. Only He can set things right. Only He can save. It’s the hope that we have that a weary world needs. And it’s a hope that we need to share with a weary world.

One day our King will return. As believers, that is our hope. That Jesus will return and establish His eternal kingdom…an enduring kingdom…the true kingdom. Not an earthly dynasty destined to end, but an everlasting rule over heaven and earth. And when He comes, the weary world will rejoice…the creation’s groaning will be over. Jesus will reign supreme.

May you rejoice and worship Jesus as your King this Christmas season.

Join us next week as we continue our Advent story with…A New and Glorious Morn.

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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

Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

Joshua 6

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho…well not quite. The LORD fought the battle of Jericho. And the walls came tumbling down.

This is a story of God’s promise and its fulfillment, of faith and obedience. From start to finish, the battle is the LORD’s. He had given Jericho into Joshua’s hand well before the battle commenced. It reminds me of Paul’s journey to Rome. No matter what the obstacle…be it the plots of the unbelieving Jews or the ferocity of the storm or the fear of the sailors or the fangs of the viper…God said that Paul would appear before Caesar in Rome and Paul did. What God says, God does. He can be trusted.

But Joshua had a part to play. His was to respond in faith to what God had said. Jesus said, “Those who hear My words and act on them may be compared to…” Hearing alone won’t do. There must be a response in faith.  For us as believers, it’s important to remember that faith is demonstrated by action. To hear and not to do is not to hear. To believe and not to act is really not to believe. What is it that you need to obey God in? What response do you need to make?

What if Joshua had decided not to listen to God and instead went with conventional wisdom? He’s a military guy. What if he devised his own plans? Joshua already knew the answer to that…he knew the consequences of not doing things God’s way, of not trusting Him but instead choosing to go his own way. When the Israelites failed to trust God and enter the land after coming out of Egypt, God said you’ve got forty years to think about it. None of those who were supposed to enter would be able to. Then they decided to make a run at it and were soundly defeated. The battle is the LORD’s. Forty years of wilderness wandering. Moses unable to enter the promised land. Had Joshua decided to forego God’s instructions and rush the city using whatever military acumen he may have possessed, the results would have been disastrous. The same is true for us when we choose to ignore God’s instructions and do things our own way. And we wonder why things aren’t working out…we’ve forgotten that the battle is the LORD’s.

But what if God’s instructions don’t make sense? Last first, love your enemies, etc. Probably didn’t make sense to Joshua either, but the battle is the LORD’s. Ours is to trust and obey. Proverbs 3.5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your path.”

Presumably all of the folks in Jericho believed the Israelites were a threat. That’s why they shut themselves in their fortress. They believed that God was on Israel’s side. They had a choice to make in the moment…they could have responded in faith like Rahab. They could have acknowledged and turned to God and welcomed the Israelites in. And like Rahab, they could have become a part of the community of believers. Instead they chose to turn away from Him. And they experienced God’s wrath. Sin is serious, and God takes sin seriously. So should we. Jesus is either your King, or He will be your Judge.

Let me leave you with this. There is room for all in the kingdom. Rahab may have seemed like one of the least likely folks to make it in. She hasn’t made the greatest of life choices. And yet, when she has an encounter with the LORD, everything changes. Her life takes a different trajectory. Her past isn’t erased…it is a part of the story of God’s grace in her life. And she has the high honor of being listed in the genealogy of the King (Matthew 1.5)!

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This post is based on a sermon from Joshua 6. 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