God’s Design for Marriage

Genesis 2.18-25, Ephesians 5.22-33

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding…Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. God takes marriage seriously. So should we.

Our culture would have us believe that the goal of marriage is happily ever after. If your spouse isn’t doing that for you, then by all means, find someone who will. If the frog doesn’t turn into a prince, try another frog. If the princess stops looking like a princess, then find someone else who does. It’s about my needs and what I want. Self is king. No marriage can survive that…Christian or otherwise.

But the goal of marriage isn’t happily ever after. The goal of marriage is what the Bible calls oneness…a husband and wife who are pursuing their lives together in Jesus as one. Marriage is not an agreement or a contract. Marriage is a covenant. A sacred covenant that we make before God that is to remain unbroken. That’s why we make our vows publicly…to be loyal in adversity, patient in sickness, encouraging in affliction, comforting in sorrow, and forsaking all others, keeping ourselves only unto our spouse, so long as we both shall live. That’s why we say things like…“I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others to cleave only to you till death do us part. This is my solemn vow.” That’s why we exchange rings. It’s why we say, “Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

The only hope we have for a successful marriage is Jesus…only He can transform us through the Spirit to live and love like Him. Only He can give us an eternal perspective on life and a compelling reason to invest everything in the kingdom. It’s only when I’m pursuing Him in earnest, that I will even have the desire to love my wife well. It’s only when she is pursuing Him the same way that she will have the desire to submit to me. If each of us is committed to being a godly spouse, we will have a godly marriage. Doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges…that’s part of life outside the garden, but it means that we are committed to seeing it through for the glory of God until death do us part.

If you are married today, I want to ask you to do something this week. Think about your marriage. Would you say that you are on track, pursuing oneness with each other as you pursue your relationship with Jesus? Wives, are you submitting to your husband? Husbands are you loving and leading your wife well? Is Jesus your first love? Once you’ve had time to think about it, why not talk to your spouse about it.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is often the first bit of Bible that folks commit to memory. And rightly so. It’s brought comfort to countless numbers of folks throughout the ages.

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 on the step mill at the gym, 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. “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?” 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 neighbors…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 and 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 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 that He is leading us and never leaves us alone in the midst of our darkest times. He will see us through, whatever the storm.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they reflected my own thinking at some point in time. I do think what we ask God is important, but primarily for this reason…it reveals 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 make us 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 time spent in prayer just talking to your Father.

Psalm 23 reminds me of who God is. So when I come to Him in prayer, I can thank Him for taking care of me…guiding me, directing me, providing for my needs, protecting me, His presence with me.

I want us to practice praying. We’re going to use Psalm 23 as a guide. You can pray right where you are. Start with… “The LORD is my shepherd…” Take each part of that statement and emphasize a different word. Thank Him for being your Shepherd. 

Ask God to provide for your needs.

Ask God to direct your paths.

Thank God for being with you in both green pastures and dark valleys, in both good and bad times. If you are in a bad time right now, ask Him to remind you often of His presence with you and for His help to weather the storm.

Thank God for His goodness and His lovingkindness that pursues you…for His abundant grace in your life.

Thank God for the promise of the kingdom and eternal life that is yours.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Gift of Giving

1 Chronicles 29.1-20

Giving is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. You have heard me say often…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, and fellowship with other believers as often as you can, but giving is another one of those disciplines that’s at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know how we can express love…for God or for our neighbor…without giving. Giving of our time. Giving of our abilities. Giving of our resources. Giving of ourselves. Giving reflects the love that God so generously has shown toward us in Jesus.

When I was growing up, giving was not a practice my parents modeled. With eight kids…money was always tight. So giving wasn’t something I was used to…and putting myself through college, I never had two nickels to rub together as my dad would say. I didn’t think I could afford to give. So it wasn’t until I met my wife Wendy that I even considered giving as a spiritual discipline. And even then, I wasn’t sure how the giving thing would work out. But we did it anyway, and we haven’t looked back since.

If giving is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” Let me just challenge you to try it. Pick an amount and begin to give regularly. Set a goal…maybe ten percent, and build those giving muscles until you reach it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. When we’ve given, God’s always been faithful to meet our needs. But a word of caution…it’s not just something to do to check a box or somehow promote yourself. God cares about our hearts when we give…what’s our motivation? Is it to please Him? Is it to further His kingdom work? Make sure He has you first…all of you. Then the right motivation and the want-to for giving will be there.

Everything that we have comes from God. We are merely stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Whether He’s entrusted us with little like the widow or much like King David, it’s all His. We have to keep that in mind. Sometime it’s harder to give when you have more…our stuff tends to capture our hearts and cause us to want more. Many times it’s those who have the least who give the most…who are the most generous. The amount may not be as much, but the sacrifice is greater and the joy of giving more abundant.

For some of us, giving is a discipline that we’ve practiced for awhile. Somewhere along your spiritual journey, someone challenged you to make giving a regular practice, and so you’ve done it for years. Thank you for your faithfulness. My question for you is…is giving a duty or a delight? Have you passed from giving to giving generously?

This is one area that I wanted to challenge myself in this year, so I came up with a simple plan that you are free to steal. Whenever I’m in line, I will offer to pay for the person behind me. Not every time, but every time the Spirit brings it to mind. It creates the opportunity for some great conversation, and it’s helping me stretch from giving to giving generously.

Giving isn’t just a resource thing…one of the most valuable commodities we have is time. It may also be the thing we are least likely to give up. So maybe exercising your giving muscles with your time looks like making “yes” your default answer instead of “no”. Seeing interruptions as opportunities to minister instead of distractions to be avoided.

So why not give giving a try, and you too can experience what a gift it really is.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

A Fierce Faith

1 Samuel 17

God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. The story of David and Goliath is the story of a fierce faith that conquers not only fear, but also an enemy of such gigantic proportions that he seems impossible to defeat. So let me ask you again, what is the goliath in your life? Do you believe that God is bigger?

Two men have the same problem. A giant of a man, an overpowered killing machine, a fierce warrior named Goliath. Saul, seeing only the man, looking only at his circumstances, considering only the outward appearance of things is dismayed and greatly afraid. He relied on his armor and his abilities, his natural strength and charisma to face his problems. But when the problem was bigger and stronger and fiercer and scarier than him, he was paralyzed with fear. It’s easy to be like Saul. Just look at your circumstances, see life from a pedestrian vantage point, live life in your own strength and eventually your goliath will come and stop you in your tracks.

David reminds us what it means to be a “man after God’s own heart”…a man who is brave and bold…a man of faith and conviction…a man willing to step onto the battlefield and face down his enemies, who knows that the battle belongs to the LORD, and who is trusting in Him to fight for him and with him. A man who looks not at the outward appearance of things…whatever the circumstances…but who sees the world from God’s perspective. A man of fierce faith.

So Dad’s, what does it look like to have a fierce faith? Let me give you a few thoughts. First, it involves spending time in the Word, time in prayer, time with other men…remembering who God is. David was able to be such a man because he knew the LORD. Not just as a passing acquaintance. But he had been to battle with Him before. David had spent time with Him and tested Him. Unlike Saul, David hadn’t forgotten who God is. Second, it’s shepherding your family well, providing for them, protecting and serving them. Leading them and guiding them. Nurturing them. Fighting for them. You see a fierce faith isn’t just for you…but according to Deuteronomy 6, it’s for you to pass on to your sons. To do that, you have to teach it to them and model it for them. But you can you can only do that if you have a fierce faith yourself. Finally, it’s acknowledging that sometimes life is hard, and also acknowledging that God is greater. And Dad’s for those of you who are here today let me just tell you that I’m proud of you. For many men it’s not easy going to church. But by being here today you’re showing your family what it looks like to follow Jesus in the day to day. Sometimes in our walk with God we just need to show up. 

As we end today I want to ask you one last question. Do you know the LORD? Years later One of David’s descendants, Jesus, will face down an even greater enemy, Satan, and having secured victory through His own death on a cross and His resurrection from the dead, Jesus gives the spoils of His triumph to those of us who believe…forgiveness of sins, life eternal, a kingdom. Do you know the LORD?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Father’s Day sermon. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Just Like Momma

Psalm 86

David’s prayer reflects his humility before God and expresses his confidence that God is not only willing to help, but is able to help as well.

And while prayer and time in the Word aka learning the LORD’s ways are foundational to our walk with Jesus, I wanted to spend a little time focusing on the importance of a parent’s faith…a momma’s faith…to the faith of her kids…

I think it’s awesome that in a moment of desperation, David not only cries to God, but also maybe, just maybe thinks of his momma. He thinks about her faith and how she has trusted in God. Who knows? Maybe he learned to turn to God first because he saw it in her. You see, kids tend to do what they see their parents doing. They tend to value the things that their parents value, and respond to things the way that they have seen their parents respond. I think David’s momma would have been proud of how he handled this situation.

Moms have the incredible responsibility of caring for their children, and, in this passage, I think we see a testament to that most significant of a mom’s responsibilities when it comes to raising children…to train them up in the fear and admonition of the LORD…to teach them to follow God and love Him with their whole heart. That’s where prayer and Bible stories and taking them to church and a lived-out faith come into play.

You won’t always do it perfectly, and your kids won’t always respond the way that you would have hoped, but moms, when you have done all that you know to do, continue to pray for your children and be in the Word. You won’t always see the fruit of your labor…it may not seem like it’s “taking”, but remember…when they are in distress, when they are alone, when their worlds are crumbling they will remember what their momma taught them. Just like David. So take courage. 

Remember that God is a God of relationship, and He has designed us for community. Don’t go at this alone mom. Find other Christian mothers to help you and guide you along the way.

If you can, thank your mom today for all she has done…give her a hug, send her a text, make a phone call… and let her know how much you love her and that you appreciate all that she has done for you.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Mother’s Day sermon. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Our Joy This Christmas

Isaiah 7.10-17

Immanuel…God with us. Comfort and joy for those who have trusted in Jesus or, as in the case of Ahaz, certain judgment for those who refuse to trust in God, but instead are trusting in themselves or in anyone or in anything else. Like Matthew 2, the gospel is good news of great joy for all people…but only those who trust in Jesus will experience that joy. For those who refuse…God’s promise is judgment. And God does what He says He will do.

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 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 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.” 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. But God’s grace always has the last word—His grace triumphs over our failure. God is present in our crises. If we will trust Him, He will save us. If we refuse Him, He will discipline us. But He would rather save us.

What alliances or compromises are you making to secure salvation for yourself? If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all (cf. Isaiah 7.9b). Your level of worry/fear/discontentment vs. contentment/joy/rest is a good indicator. Are you trusting God? The more we trust in Him, the more the fruits of the Spirit, of which joy is one, will abound. The more we trust ourselves…not so much. If you trusting in God, are you doing what He says? The secret to joy is resting in God, trusting in His love for us at the most fundamental level of our being, believing that He has not only saved us from condemnation, but that He is with us to save us in and through our current circumstances. 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 joy is not just believing that God really loves us, but also doing what He says so that we can experience life and fullness of joy as He intended for us to.

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 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 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.

There is no place like home. There is no home like heaven. There is no king like Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

“May we experience the joy of the Christmas season, knowing that God is with us and trusting Him fully in all of life’s circumstances.”

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

In the Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule … over all the earth’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1.26-27

Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? Great thinkers have wrestled with these questions for millennia. How I answer those questions will determine how I live my life, my worldview, how I interact with others.

If I accept what the culture says about the meaning of life, then I’m just 1 of 7 billion+ other human beings on planet earth evolved from goo over the span of billions of years. I am the product of time and chance. Life has no meaning beyond the here and now, so the best I can hope for is to eat, drink and enjoy, do what feels good, regardless of the consequences. After all, there’s no such thing as God or divine law or eternal consequences. Other human beings are tools to be used for my pleasure or to further my ends, or they are obstacles to be squashed.

But if I accept what the Bible says about the meaning of life, then I’m of infinite value because I bear God’s image. I have an incredible destiny and have tremendous potential because I have been made in His likeness to reflect Him to His creation (what it means to “rule”). As an image-bearer, I am loved with an unfathomable, incomprehensible love by Creator God. It means also that others have infinite value as fellow image-bearers, and that I’m to love them as such.

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, their rebellion, their sin, as we see in Genesis 3, marred the image…it didn’t erase it. It separated us from Creator God, resulting in our death and put our destiny and potential in serious jeopardy. And if not for this amazing God, our story would end in despair. We would never reach our potential and could never fulfill our destiny. We would be forever separated from our Creator. But He wasn’t done yet. Even in the midst of our rebellion, He made a promise and provided a way that we could be rescued and our relationship with Him could be restored, our destiny and potential realized…through faith in the Head-crushing Seed of the woman, the Redeemer of Genesis 3.15, who we know as Jesus.

As a pastor, I see so many folks who have believed the lie that their lives have no purpose. That’s why drugs and pornography and prostitution and abuse and all manner of other awful things that we do to ourselves and others are so rampant. Those caught up in these things fail to see their own worth and refuse to acknowledge another’s. It’s the predictable consequence of accepting the philosophy that says, “You’re an accident.”

What you believe matters. You were made in the image of God.

Until next time…stay salty.