Stephen Takes a Stand

Acts 7

Stephen takes the stand, answering the charges brought against him by his opponents. It’s not Stephen who stands in the wrong…far from speaking against Moses, God, the Temple or the Law…he speaks against those who rebel against God and make an idol out of the Temple or the Law.

Stephen had no way of knowing that the people would react so violently to what he had to say. But even if he did, he wouldn’t have changed a word. Stephen was a faithful witness to the end and had the awesome privilege of being the first martyr of the church…the first to die for Jesus. Many more will follow. The boldness that the Apostles prayed for is definitely present in the life of Stephen.

I wonder if we would be so bold. The likelihood of being called to martyrdom is still pretty low in this country although in other parts of the world it’s relatively high. But I wonder if we would be bold enough to share our testimony even when it’s unpopular…when it might be seen as politically incorrect or even labelled “hate speech” because we proclaim the truth that Jesus is the only way. I wonder if we would be so bold to face ridicule and maybe even physical harm for the sake of the Name. I wonder.

I pray that we would be that bold. I pray that we would be bold in the way that we live our lives for Jesus. I pray that we would be bold in the way that we love one another and those who oppose us. I pray that we would be bold in our words and in our actions. I pray that we would be a bold people, courageously following our King, storming the gates of hell and releasing the captives. I pray that we could never be accused of being a stiff-necked people, uncircumcised of heart and ear, but that we would be a people who do justice, live kindness and walk humbly with our God. May we be such a people.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Stephen’s Arrest

Acts 6.8-15

Stephen returns to his old neighborhood to share the good news of hope that he has found in Jesus. He wants the folks closest to him to experience the same life-transformation he has. Jesus changes everything. And although the Spirit is powerfully at work through him performing great wonders and signs to confirm his testimony, what should be received as good news indeed is met with hostility.

Welcome to the dangerous world of living for Jesus. The more brightly your light shines, the more energetically the enemy will attempt to put it out. So how then should we live? In fear, shrinking back? No. Courageously storming the gates of hell. Stephen didn’t back down. Neither did the Apostles. They knew they were serving a King and a kingdom worth dying for. So do we. But not only is our King worth dying for, He’s also worth living for.

Are you living for your King? Yeah, you are. But are you living for the true King…are you living for Jesus? Or are you living for a pretender? Where do your allegiances lie? Who/what are you serving? Who do you adore? You see, unless you love God more…more than anyone else or anything else…you won’t live for Him. And if you won’t live for Him, you certainly won’t die for Him.

So if you want to live for your King…if you want to love Him more…you have to be intentional about your pursuit of Him. You have to cultivate your love…time spent with Him will do that. Time in His Word…time in prayer…time with His people. Time in His Word…every day. Time in prayer…every day. Time with His people…as often as you can. And remember it’s not something that you can do on your own…but He has given you His Spirit to strengthen and encourage you, to lead and to guide you, to transform you to live and love like Jesus.

If today were your last day, would you be ready? Jesus will either be your King or your Judge? When your time comes, there are no do-overs, no second chances…the question is not whether or not we will die, or when or how we will die, but if we are ready to die. Are you ready?

A little over a hundred years before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, John Huss was preaching key reformation ideals. He would be martyred for his devotion to the Bible over the traditions of the church. Just moments before his death, he was asked by the imperial marshal one final time to recant and save his life. John responded “God is my witness that…the principal intention of my preaching…and all my other acts or writings are solely that I might turn people from sin. And in that truth of the gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willingly glad to die today.”

It’s better to burn out than fade away…

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Seven Chosen to Serve

Acts 6.1-7

The Apostles turn a potentially divisive problem into a ministry solution and increase their reach by raising up leaders within the church.

Jesus prayed for the unity of the church on that last evening in the upper room with His disciples (John 17.20-21). He said that all the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13.35). Too often, I’m afraid, it’s not our unity and love we’re known for. Too often the prejudices and divisiveness, the selfishness and self-serving attitude of the outside world infects the church. We are too easily offended and too quick to assume the worst in others. Grumbling and complaining is our default. It shouldn’t be that way.

How should we respond when crisis happens or we feel like our needs (not our wants) are being overlooked? First of all, don’t assume it’s intentional. The Apostles didn’t intentionally overlook the Hellenistic Jewish widows, and don’t assume that leadership in your church is intentionally overlooking or ignoring the needs of folks within the body. Doesn’t mean that they can respond to every want, but I’m sure they do their best to cover the needs that they are aware of.

Second, be part of the solution. Select from among yourselves seven…not just any seven, but seven who were spiritually mature and had the skill set to help. Maybe you are the person to step in and help. Maybe you know the person who should. But instead of being a grumbler…instead of throwing rocks…do something to help out. How can you be a part of the solution?

Third, keep the main thing the main thing. We have a real enemy who doesn’t want to see us succeed…as individuals or as a body of believers. As Mike Harris often says, “He’s not going to give us a free pass.” He prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Unfortunately in our successes we often sow the seeds of defeat. We let our guard down. The busyness of life that success often brings crowds out our devotional time with the Lord. Instead of focusing on time in the Word and time in prayer, we have too much to do. And that’s when the lion pounces.

Finally, celebrate the win. Often times we can move from task to task and not celebrate and thank God for the victories and wins He has given us. And what is the win?  Transforming families to live and love like Jesus. When we come together to solve problems and meet needs we reflect the unity that Jesus calls us to. And we show love in the process. There is plenty of hatred in the world…plenty of prejudice and divisiveness…plenty of me-ism. Let’s not let it affect our church.

Until next time…let’s pray.

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

Beware of Fighting Against God

Acts 5.17-42

Persecution heats up as the Apostles continue to carry out their mission of being witnesses to Jesus and His resurrection. What about you? How are you being a witness? What’s your story?

I think sometimes Christianity is caricatured as something for those who are soft or weak…those not strong enough to stand on their own. But our passage today shows that the Apostles are anything but weak. Not only do they stand up to the most powerful men in their society…not promoting their own agenda but proclaiming Jesus…but they are also willing to suffer the humiliation of both jail and a public whippin’ for Jesus. And so much more. “If church traditions are correct, Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome, Matthew suffered martyrdom by the sword. John was scarred in a cauldron of boiling oil and lived his last days banished on an island. James was beheaded in Jerusalem, Paul in Rome…and the list goes on and on.

I wonder if we are willing to suffer for our faith…or do we let fear (or our comfort and/or our convenience) overcome our courage when it comes to following Jesus? When we trusted in Jesus, when we committed to following Him, we were not choosing the safest or easiest or most convenient or comfortable way through life, but the most dangerous, inconvenient, challenging yet rewarding path. We are traitors to the god of this world…our allegiance is to the true King. We live in enemy territory…potential for danger at every turn. Sometimes we forget that and want to take the safe route. But Jesus didn’t come to just rearrange the furniture in our lives…He came to change everything. And when Jesus begins to change everything, we will be at odds with the world around us. Jesus calls us, not to live a safe life, but a dangerous life…a life that gives testimony to the great God and true King we serve. But you know, it’s really not that dangerous…Jesus promises to never leave us or forsake us. And if He requires us to pay the ultimate price, isn’t life in the kingdom so much better than life in this fallen world? Remember Jesus’ parable of the minas from Luke 19? The servant who gained the ten minas didn’t do it by being afraid, but by being bold. By risking everything for the gospel he gained everything, while the servant who played it safe lost it all.

We are called to live out our faith and share our testimony with others at every God-given opportunity. Dare to ask God to provide you with the opportunity and He will, but will you be ready?

Persecution is a-coming. You don’t have to look for it…the more you look like Jesus, the more folks will treat you like Him. Some will be attracted to you, but most will reject you.

This is some hard stuff…suffering before glory always is. But we have to remember that this world is not our home, and it’s values are not our values. So we will be at odds most times. That’s ok, because when we choose God’s side, we never lose.

“The Christian is a holy rebel loose in the world with access to the throne of God. Satan never knows from what direction the danger will come.” Tozer That Incredible Christian. Pray we will be dangerous Christians.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Fate of Ananias and Sapphira

Acts 5.1-16

Ananias and Sapphira learn quickly the deadly consequences of lying to the Holy Spirit. Sin is dealt with swiftly and decisively. 

God takes sin seriously and so should we. And while we may not see the consequences of our choices quite so quickly, they do not go unnoticed. That’s why Paul says in Ephesians 5.15-17, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

We are to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…doesn’t mean that we are perfect or will do it perfectly. But it means that we are learning more and more what it is to walk by the Spirit, to put off the old self and put on the new…to live and love like Jesus.

Character…integrity…matters. There is no such thing as a small fib…a little white lie…a half truth. Who we are on the outside should match who we are on the inside. Our walk should match our talk. If we claim to follow Jesus, then our lives should reflect that. When they don’t, it’s obvious to those around us. It’s called hypocrisy. And the only person we are fooling is ourselves…the truth always comes out. Who we are matters.

That’s why it is so important for us to be intentional about pursuing our relationship with Jesus. Left to ourselves, we will never live and love like Him. But when we intentionally pursue our relationship with Him…when we spend time in His Word, time in prayer and time with other believers…then the Spirit slowly but surely begins to transform us into the image of the Son. Little by little, moment by moment, day by day. As we spend more time with Him, we learn to recognize His voice. We begin to notice Him directing our steps. And as we say “yes” to His direction, we become more like Him. But we have to be intentional. It won’t just happen.

One more thing… The mark of a maturing Christian is the realization that our greatest regret when we blow it is disappointing our Father in heaven. Not the regret of being embarrassed or even the harm to others, as bad as that may be, but the deep regret of disappointing the One we love the most…the One who loves us more than any other. After David’s epic failure in the Bathsheba-Uriah affair (2 Samuel 11), he cries out to God in Psalm 51.4 saying, “Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.”

As parents we need to teach our kids that they should choose to do the right thing, not because doing the wrong thing leads to physical consequences and not even because the Bible identifies it as the wrong choice, but because when we love someone, we want to serve them and do what pleases them…living right out of love for the Father as opposed to just living right because the Bible says it is the right thing to do.

God takes sin seriously…that’s why Jesus had to die on a cross…to pay the penalty for our sin. That’s what we celebrate in communion. Jesus died so that we might live. So choose life. I want to give you a few minutes to talk to the Lord. What do you need to confess? What do you need to celebrate? What do you need to commit to?

Until next time…stay salty.

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

You’re Not Alone

Acts 4.23-37

Peter and John return with news of their first confrontation with the religious leaders. And while they weathered this first storm, they recognize their need for the Spirit’s enablement to courageously carry forward the mission in the face of fierce opposition. And so they pray. They are not alone. They not only have each other, but they also stand together with the Sovereign Lord, the Creator of the universe on their side.

Once again, prayer is front and center for the Apostles. Is prayer your go-to in crisis? Is it something you need, or just something that you get around to after you’ve tried everything else? Are you praying for strength and courage to weather the storm, knowing that it’s in times of suffering and tragedy that our faith is most clearly on display, or are you just praying to escape the storm? Do you recognize that you’re not alone…that you have a community of believers that is here to support you, not to mention the Spirit of the living God who indwells you? Or are you trying to go it alone?

Meanwhile the early church continues to be a model of unity and love. There is a singleness of purpose in their pursuit of building the kingdom…telling others about Jesus and growing in their faith. Their love is expressed practically in meeting the needs of those within the community who are lacking.

Like the early church, we too are called to be a vibrant community, a family, here at Central. Jesus said the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. So how are we doing? How are we doing with loving each other and pursuing the kingdom together?

We are all called to be witnesses…to tell others about Jesus and how He has changed our lives. We are called to proclaim the awesomeness of the God we serve. That seems hard to do at times for a myriad of reasons. Maybe we don’t think about it…too self-absorbed, maybe we’re too busy, maybe we’re too afraid. Whatever the reason, take a moment now to confess it to God and then ask Him to give you the confidence to do what He has called you to do. 

Are you living a generous life…when you see a need, do you work to meet the need? Are you generous, not just with your resources but with your time and with you life? Are people more important than things…is Jesus really more satisfying than your stuff?

How are you doing with spiritual disciplines? Are you spending time daily with the Lord in prayer and the Word? Are you meeting with believing friends to encourage and pray for each other?

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Initial Opposition

Acts 4.1-22

Peter and John encounter their first challenge to the gospel. Sadly it comes from the religious leaders, the very ones who should have been the most excited about the good news. But their response is not too surprising because they are the same folks who asked Pilate to spare Barabas and crucify Jesus.

Why were the folks in charge of the Temple that day greatly disturbed? Why were they so unwilling to embrace Jesus as their Messiah…the One that God had exalted…the One that God had raised up from the dead…the Stone that they had rejected? Because Jesus threatened their way of life. They didn’t want to forfeit the kingdom they had built for themselves. They would rather be slaves of Rome than servants of the Most High God. They would rather be slaves of sin, than servants of righteousness. Sound familiar?

Jesus changes everything. Peter and John were no longer lost and afraid…they were bold and confident. The lame man was no longer sitting on the outside begging…he was walking and leaping and praising God. Jesus came to bring life to the dead, hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless…He came to save us. And only He can. “For there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

I love the boldness of Peter and John. Standing before the very men who condemned Jesus, the most powerful Jewish men in Jerusalem, they bolding proclaim the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. The man who was formerly lame, but now completely healed…both physically and spiritually…is proof positive. I wonder if we are that bold…are we willing to share the gospel, to tell our story of how Jesus has rescued us, with our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, etc.?

Has Jesus changed your life? Have you trusted in Him? If not, what’s holding you back?

If you have trusted in Jesus, how has He changed your life? What’s your story? Who are you sharing it with?

Until next time…stay salty.

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