Paul at Ephesus

Acts 19.1-20

Paul returns to Ephesus where he will set up his base of operations for this his third and final missionary journey. Nothing like pitching your tent outside the Enemy’s stronghold as you make your assault on the forces of darkness.

Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is powerful both in word and in deed. Miracles abound…miracles of healing and casting out demons. Miracles that show the power of God over the demonic realm. The gates of hell cannot prevail against Jesus’ Church. In the battle between light and darkness, miracles and magic…it is the name of Jesus that is magnified. He has already won the victory.

As that truth dawned on these Ephesian believers, they were convicted of their sin…of the past they were still holding on to…and they did something about it. They made a clean break. So I want to challenge you with something this week…what is it that you need to confess and make a clean break from? What sin are you holding on to? For them the clean break meant destroying the objects that had caused them to stumble. What might that look like for you?

Take the next few minutes to confess whatever sin it is that you are holding on to and to turn it over to Jesus and ask Him what a clean break looks like for you. And then this week take the next step…whatever that might be…follow through and make a clean break.

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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

Aquila and Priscilla

Acts 18.18-28

Paul rounds out his second missionary journey and begins his third with renewed vigor. Having left Aquila and Priscilla behind in Ephesus, Paul is anxious to return there after visiting Jerusalem, Antioch and the churches he had planted along the way. Meanwhile Aquila and Priscilla are able to encourage and equip Apollos, a man who will prove to be a great asset to the Church and the preaching of the gospel.

While it would be easy to gloss over much of what happens in this story, there are subtle details that we might miss…reminders that this is the story that God is telling. The story of His Church. Paul takes Aquila and Priscilla with him from Corinth. He drops them off in Ephesus as he heads back East. Meanwhile a guy named Apollos shows up one Sabbath at the synagogue where Aquila and Priscilla are worshiping. They are able to instruct him and encourage him. And because of their connections to the church in Corinth, they are able to pave the way for him to begin a powerful ministry there. It’s no accident. God’s fingerprints are all over this story. Just as His fingerprints are all over your story.

The goal of marriage is this thing called becoming one and pursuing the purpose for which God created and called and saved you. Pursuing holiness rather than happiness…knowing that holiness, or living life the way God intended, brings true and lasting happiness.

Aquila and Priscilla are an example of a couple who got it, the only example in the NT to my recollection…who understood that marriage really is ministry. That when we put Jesus at the center of our marriage…when He’s our greatest pleasure and our highest good…then it becomes more natural for us to want to do the things that please Him. We’re on the hunt for opportunities to encourage and build up and strengthen and serve and help and love on others. Of course that’s very countercultural.

You see the norm is represented by another famous, or maybe better infamous, couple in the book of Acts…Ananias and Sapphira. Remember in Acts 5, the early church in Jerusalem is experiencing tremendous growth and folks are looking out for others, selling stuff and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to those in need. Ananias and Sapphira hatch a plan…they like the attention they’ll get by participating, but they don’t really want to part with their stuff, so they sell some property and bring only a portion of the money to the Apostles. Now bringing only a portion of the proceeds wouldn’t have been wrong, except that they somehow gave the impression that they brought the full amount of the sale. Greed and pride will get you every time. For them it literally cost them their lives. Unfortunately for many couples…even Christian couples…it’s more about the appearance of doing good than the actual practice of good.

Happiness vs. Holiness…they may seem antithetical, but God’s designed it so that we realize our greatest happiness…our greatest fulfillment in life, in our marriages, in our work or whatever…when we realize it in Him, when we put Him at the center. Just like Aquila and Priscilla.

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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 at Corinth

Acts 18.1-17

Paul’s visit to Corinth proves to be an important strategic move for the Church. Paul himself receives a word of encouragement from the Lord to press on despite ministry fatigue, and the Church receives a word of confirmation from the Roman authorities of its legitimacy despite the objections of the Jewish antagonists.

Following Jesus is hard work at times. Opposition and obstacles are often in the way. But the Lord is with us, and He will see us through. He still has work for us to do…lots of folks who need to hear about Jesus. Prisoners who need to be set free. Now’s not the time to shrink back. Now’s the time to forge ahead…to storm the gates…and proclaim our Resurrected King.

Like Paul, it’s our job to share the gospel…good news for those who receive it, but a warning of impending judgment for those who reject it. Jesus is either our King, or He will be our Judge. No middle ground. You are either in or out, for or against, saved or lost.

And also like Paul, we all need encouragement. Who can you encourage this week? Maybe someone who is having a rough go of it. Maybe someone who has walked away from the faith for any number of reasons. Maybe someone who needs to take a step of faith. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever the situation…encourage them in the Lord this week.

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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 at Athens

Acts 17.16-34

Paul’s trip to Athens is not the vacation he may have hoped for. Disturbed by the rampant idolatry he finds in the city, Paul can’t help but confront the spiritual bankruptcy of the folks who are there. With a well-reasoned argument, Paul starts with God as the Creator and Sustainer of all that He has made. He is a God who is actively involved in the world and who has made us in His image to worship Him. Some will. For those who don’t, He has appointed a Judge who will judge the world in righteousness.

Is our culture that much different than ancient Athens? Learning, culture, the arts, sports… Maybe we don’t have temples and idols that litter the landscape, but that doesn’t mean we don’t worship false gods nonetheless. Gods of affluence and entitlement, of beauty and popularity, of importance and greed, of you fill-in-the-blank. It’s anything we love more than God, anything we worship in place of God, anything we value above God. What, if anything, is that for you?

I wonder about the folks from the synagogue. Normally Luke gives us a report on their response to the gospel, but not this time…why? The only two people he mentions as believing the gospel seem to be from the Areopagus. So what about the others? Why was Paul’s message so strange and new? Maybe they were no different than the rest of the Athenians. Maybe the culture was having a greater impact on them than they were having on the culture. Can the same be said about us? About you?

Paul is provoked by what he sees. Clearly he shares God’s anger about the things around him. But he also shares God’s love for the folks who are trapped by their own sin. Their objects of worship were evidence that they were seeking God, but their ignorance of Him was leading them in the wrong direction. Are you provoked by the idolatry you see around you? If so, how are you responding? Are you lashing out at it or reaching out to those trapped by it?

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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 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