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 ( 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

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/, 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