Paul in Thessalonica and Berea

Acts 17.1-15

Paul and his companions share the gospel in the synagogues of both Thessalonica and Berea with very different results. In Thessalonica, Paul, using the Scriptures, reasons, explains and presents evidence that the Christ must die and be raised again. And he shows how Jesus, having been crucified and raised on the third day, fulfills all that the OT said about Him. Some Jews believe, but most reject the gospel. In Berea, the Jews themselves use the Scriptures to test what Paul’s saying and, confirming the truth of his teaching, many believe.

One group had stopped asking the “why” questions. They saw the world through their own pre-conceived ideas and were unwilling to examine the evidence for themselves. They were pre-occupied with their own kingdoms with no room for a rival King.

The other group was still asking “why”. They were willing to be challenged, but also willing to challenge in return. They were hungry for the truth…I think we could say pre-occupied with the kingdom…so that when they hear about Jesus they gladly make Him their King.

Which one of those two groups most resembles you? Is “eagerness” a good description of the way you approach the Word? Do you examine the Scriptures daily, aligning your thoughts with what the Bible says…your beliefs, your values? If not, why not start today?

One last thing…the gospel is good news. Sometimes we have to be reminded of that especially in a world that vilifies Christians at every turn. Jesus has come to save the day. He’s come to right the wrongs. He’s come to set the captives free. But sadly, not every captive wants to be free. Some are deluded into thinking that the life that they are living is really living despite the pain and sorrow and carnage of bad choices and broken relationships and guilt and regret and everything else. And so while we share a message of life, we shouldn’t be surprised that our enemy will attempt to thwart our forays into his kingdom. But like Paul, it shouldn’t stop us. When one door closes, look for the next.

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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

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Acts 16.1-10

Paul and Silas head out on the second missionary journey. Along the way they pick up Timothy, and, following the guidance of the Spirit, end up in Troas on their way to Macedonia.

Now we are not told how Paul got the “no” from the Spirit on two separate occasions on their journey. And it brings up an interesting question that’s often asked…“how do I know what God’s will is for me?” I think we often treat God’s will like a code to be cracked. If we can just figure out the secret handshake or discover the hidden message kept in some mysterious place then we will know what God wants us to do. We’ll discover the “National Treasure” that is His will. But what if it’s easier than that? You see I believe that God, as a good Father, wants us to know what it is He would have us do. Like any parent wants for their children. But like children we often fail to listen. It’s been said, and I would tend to agree that 90% of what God wants you to do can be found…in His Word, the Bible. The Bible is the Codebook, if you will, to life. In It, God gives us instruction on how we are to live…how we are to conduct ourselves, how we are to respond, what we are to do. And if you are spending time daily in God’s Word, you will learn to hear His voice, and not only will you discover the 90%, but the 10% also becomes more and more clear.

But not only should you spend time in God’s Word, you should also be spending time in prayer. If we are spending time with God in prayer daily, listening as well as talking, then we have this promise from Proverbs 3.5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” The 10% becomes clear when we’re spending time with the Lord.

Paul was preoccupied with the kingdom. He was undistracted in His pursuit of Jesus. When we spend time in God’s Word and spend time in prayer with Him, we too can become less focused on ourselves and more preoccupied with the kingdom. But we have to be intentional. And Paul wasn’t alone in his journey…he had a group of buddies with him who were also preoccupied with the kingdom. That’s important. Do you have a group of believers that you’re pursuing Jesus with? A community or small group?

I’m also struck by the fact that Paul’s journey was anything but linear. Sometimes we think the Christian life is a series of moves from one successive step to the next in a very predictable pattern, but often it’s way more exciting than that. Think rollercoaster rather than escalator. And although it may not have made sense to Paul in the moment he was willing to ride the rollercoaster…he was willing to wait when God said, “Wait” and go when God said, “Go”. Paul wasn’t following his own agenda, but that of his Master. If we are honest, I think often we let our agenda get in the way of God’s agenda even when we are doing things “for Him”. We have to remember that His ways are not always our ways…and it’s His ways that matter.

One last thing…Paul didn’t give up. When God closed door number and door number two, Paul kept going until God opened door number three. How often do we give up before we get to door number three and miss the opportunity that God has for us there? Again time in the Word, time in prayer and time with other believers and a passion to share the gospel with those who have a front row seat to our lives will help us persevere to door number three.

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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

The Jerusalem Council

Acts 15.1-21

A question over entrance requirements for the kingdom is threatening the unity of the early church. Should the Gentiles be required to become Jews before becoming Christians? At stake is the very gospel itself. Is salvation by faith in Jesus alone or not?

The council renders an overwhelming verdict in the affirmative…salvation is by faith in Jesus alone according to God’s grace. That’s awesome news! Every obstacle has been removed so that you can come to Jesus by faith, just as you are. If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, what’s stopping you?

I’ve got to believe that the hearts of these Pharisaic Christians were in the right place. They didn’t necessarily want to keep folks out, they just wanted to control how they came in. I think sometimes we do the same thing. Maybe not consciously, but we kind of expect that folks who follow Jesus will look like us…they’ll act like us, they’ll have the same convictions as us…and when they don’t we begin to question whether or not they are really one of us.

There is a fine line between conviction and legalism. There are things that the Bible is clear about, and walking in those things is part of following Jesus. I’m not talking about those things. But there are things that the Bible isn’t necessarily clear on…and on those things through our own reading of Scripture and time with the Lord we develop convictions. Those are more personal…our own rules of engagement. When we take our convictions…not talking about what the Bible says, but our convictions…and inflict those on others we’ve crossed the line into legalism. Legalism is measuring my righteousness against yours…comparing how good I am to how bad you are. And it’s easy to fall into. We say salvation is by faith alone, but we too can hang expectations on that, can’t we? What are those expectations for you, and how are they keeping you from welcoming others into the faith? Do they need to act, dress, talk or behave a certain way? If that’s you, it’s time to let go of those expectations.

No doubt Jesus changes everything. Like Paul says, when we choose Jesus we are turning from vain things to follow the living God. But sometimes I think we hang on to those vain things. I think we drag them along with us as we half-heartedly, if that, turn in His direction. What are the vain things you are holding on to? What idols…what sins…what of your past are you clinging to, unwilling to let go of? You will not experience the life that Jesus saved you for until you let go of them. If that’s you, I want to invite you to let go of those things, and turn completely to Him today.

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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

Acceptance and Opposition: Lystra

Acts 14.8-20a

Paul’s visit to the little town of Lystra didn’t go quite the way he had planned. The healing of a lame man which should have opened a door for the gospel and pointed folks to Jesus instead causes them to want to worship Paul and Barnabas. And just when that seems to be under control, a group of zealous, unbelieving Jews shows up to put an end to Paul once and for all.

I love the “success” stories that we’ve seen so far in the book of Acts…where thousands of folks come to faith in Jerusalem and in Samaria, the conversion of Cornelius and also of Saul/Paul, Peter’s rescue from the clutches of Herod and Paul’s triumph over the false prophet Bar-Jesus, the church in Antioch and the Gentiles who have come to faith along the way.

The successes are great…Jesus had lots of those too. But there was also opposition and persecution. Just as we said last week…while we may wish it were otherwise, that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject.

There will always be opposition to the gospel. We have a real enemy who doesn’t like us storming his gates, and he will do anything and everything in his power to thwart our attempts to rescue folks held captive under his dominion. Sometimes folks will misinterpret and misunderstand us, and sometimes they will violently oppose us. Either way, let’s not give up.

Ours is a society that is quickly losing its biblical moorings…no longer can we assume that folks have even a rudimentary knowledge or understanding of the Bible. Unfortunately that’s not just out there…many folks within the church are far from having a biblical worldview. Most are more influenced by the anti-Christian, anti-God culture that surrounds us than they are by God’s Word. We may be too sophisticated to worship Zeus and Hermes, but we do worship our idols nonetheless…

It makes sharing our faith challenging. It makes living a Christian life challenging. There are lots of obstacles in the way, but it shouldn’t stop us. It shouldn’t cause us to give up and go home. Instead it should cause us to rely more fully on the Spirit, to cling more desperately to Jesus. To get up and press on…to get back in the game.

If you haven’t yet trusted in Jesus, make today the day. Make today the day you turn from vain and worthless things to the living God who not only created the heavens and the earth, but who also made you as well. Who loves you and wants to adopt you into His family. The God who loved you so much that He sent His one and only Son Jesus to die a sacrificial death for you so that by believing in Him your sins could be forgiven, and who raised Him the third day so that you too might have eternal life.

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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

Acceptance and Opposition: Iconium

Acts 14.1-7

Paul and Barnabas face both acceptance and opposition in the ancient city of Iconium. Initially the response is super positive…a large number of both Jews and Greeks believe. But then opposition comes from those who refuse to believe. The sad thing is, those refusing to believe do so because they have rejected their Messiah. What should have been the greatest news ever received with the greatest excitement ever is instead met with hostility and extreme prejudice.

And while we may wish it were otherwise…that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject. Didn’t Jesus say something about that…“the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it…the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7.13-14).

Paul could have easily given up on his mission. Think about his experience up to this point…run out of both Damascus and Jerusalem and threatened with death, benched for awhile (about eight years) in Tarsus, has a spiritual showdown with a false prophet named Bar-Jesus, persecuted and driven out of Pisidian Antioch, and now once again on the run coming out of Iconium. Of course there were successes along the way as well…a great many people brought into the kingdom through his teaching of the gospel. Through it all, Paul remains faithful to his calling…he continues to speak out boldly, unashamed of Jesus. In fact, later on he will say, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20.24).

We too will face opposition and suffering when we choose to follow Jesus and when we share the gospel…why? Because some accept, but most will reject. Knowing that is a part of the gig, let us not shrink back, but let us also be faithful to our calling…to be witnesses, to share our story. Let us do so boldly, unashamed of Jesus…so that we too can finish the course and make a kingdom impact.

Your impact list is a great place to start. Your impact list is a good way to think about the folks who have a front row seat to your life…family, friends, co-workers/classmates, teammates, etc. Pick one and pray for the opportunity to share your story with them. Pray that you would be bold. Pray that you would be courageous. Pray that you would be steadfast…endure and be faithful while you have opportunity. Pray that God will use you to impact their life for the kingdom, and that they in turn will have a kingdom impact in another’s life. And after you pray, take action and make an Impact for Jesus.

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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

Generous Giving

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

So why talk about money? Because money…how we use it…is a good indication of our spiritual health. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples not to worry…about food or clothing…the necessities of life…God will provide for us just as He does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He says instead that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.

Generosity is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity. Throughout church history, the care for the poor was a sign of the church. It won converts, it was a witness in itself of the power and provision of God. Because our Father is generous, He wants His kids to be generous too. The liberating joy of our salvation should loosen our grip on our earthly fortunes…our stuff…and free us up to give with unbridled generosity. We, as believers, should be the most generous folks on the planet!

But so often we’re not. And 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 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. 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 you’ve got to build your giving muscles. Maybe you have given sporadically. This year I challenge you to be intentional, sit down with your family and pick an amount and give that amount regularly. 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 provides for us so that we can then provide for others. When we invest in the kingdom, it pays eternal dividends.

Make 2019 the year that generous giving becomes a priority for you. Taste and see that the Lord is good…test Him in this. Malachi 3:10 says this, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” We have a money back guarantee when we bountifully sow…when we richly invest in the kingdom of our generous God.

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

Paul’s First Sermon

Acts 13.13-43

Paul’s first sermon is a pretty straightforward presentation of the gospel. Jesus is the King that God promised would come from ancient times…the King who brings in the kingdom. By believing in Him, we can be rescued from sin and death and spend an eternity with Him.

That’s awesome news! I love Paul’s reminder…this is what God did. He promised, and He did it so we can trust Him in telling our story. We can trust that He is with us through the good and bad, the ups and downs, whatever storm may come our way, leading and guiding us, shaping and molding us, transforming us to live and love like Jesus.

It’s easy for the routine…the familiar…to keep us from seeing the bigger picture…what’s important…right in front of us. How many people go to the gym for years and look exactly the same? They have a routine, but not a goal…a bigger picture, so nothing changes. Not so unlike the Jews in Jerusalem, who got caught up in the routine and missed the bigger picture, Jesus!

How do we keep from missing Jesus? Well, for those of us who have believed, our gathering together on the weekend is part of that. It’s kind of like going to the gym…it’s only part of the exercise of our faith. What we do throughout the rest of the week matters…time in the Word, time in prayer, time with other believers…those are standard, part of keeping Jesus in front of us. But I think one of the biggest things that keeps us from missing Jesus are the interruptions…the unexpected phone calls or texts or visits…unplanned opportunities to be generous givers of our time, our resources and ourselves.

Many of you have been in the church for a while. Maybe you are here every week. You’ve heard the Word taught. You know about Jesus. You can rehearse the ancient stories. But have you believed in Him? You see, knowing about Him and knowing Him…believing in Him…are two different things. You’ve heard me often say, “Jesus changes everything.” If you’ve believed in Him, how has your life changed? What’s different now from what it was before?

Examine your heart…think about your life. Have you trusted in Jesus? Maybe you know about Him, but do you know Him? It’s the most important decision you will ever make. You see, for those of us who believe…we have forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection…a kingdom awaits us. But for those who refuse to believe, only judgment. Jesus is either your King or He will be your Judge. Why not acknowledge Him as King today?

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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