The Gospel Spreads to Samaria

Acts 8.1-25

Don’t do what Simon says…don’t be like Simon, seeing the gospel as a means of promoting your own agenda…of promoting yourself. Instead be like Philip, who believed in Jesus and promoted His kingdom, and who also, in a time of persecution, was faithful and obedient to proclaim the gospel and point others to Jesus. 

What Saul and his buddies meant for evil, God will use to grow His church. In Philip’s case it’s persecution, for you God may be using your current circumstances to lead you to your next kingdom assignment. Will you, like Philip, be obedient and faithful?

Do you recognize the opportunities that God is giving you to tell your story? Do you notice them in your workplace, with your friends and family, with your neighbors, or wherever God has you? Whether it’s in a time of relative calm or chaos, the gospel should be part of the luggage we take with us wherever we go.

Finally, are you pointing others to Jesus and pursuing His kingdom like Philip, or are you still living according to this world’s values like Simon, pursuing your own kingdom? Are you living for this world or the one to come? One path leads to abundant life in the kingdom, the other…a scathing rebuke.

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 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

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

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

Unwrapping Joy

1 Peter 1.6-9

We can experience inexpressible joy even in the midst of trials when we see our lives from a kingdom perspective…because we have a living hope and an imperishable inheritance that is protected by God.

Everyone who walks this planet will suffer…guaranteed. It’s part of living in a fallen world. Death. Loss. Broken relationships. Disappointment. You name it. Some of that suffering is due to our own bad choices. Some of it’s due to the bad choices of others. Some of it’s a result of the fall. But everybody will suffer in some way at some time. But not all will suffer for their faith.

The picture that Jesus frequently uses for discipleship…for following Him…is taking up our cross. It’s a clear picture of suffering. Now why does suffering have to be a part of the deal? I mean if we’ve chosen to follow God, if we’ve been adopted into His family, if we’re kingdom citizens, then why doesn’t He keep us from suffering? If we are on the winning side, then why does it feel like we’re losing? It goes back to the fall…

When we rebelled against our Creator, it had a devastating effect not only on us but also on the good world that God had made. The dominion that man was supposed to exercise over creation was forfeited to the enemy (Luke 4.6), who subsequently became “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4.4) , “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2.2). Before we trusted in Jesus, we were “sons (and daughters) of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2) and were citizens of this world and thoroughly committed to life in the kingdom of darkness.

When we trusted in Jesus another rebellion occurred, but this one was really a return. And while it is true that we are citizens of a new kingdom and children of God, we are still living in enemy territory. Because our allegiance has changed, we are at odds with the world around us. The more we look like Jesus…the more we live as kingdom citizens…the more at odds we will be. The more at odds, the more suffering. The more suffering, the more rejoicing. Why can we rejoice? Because our faith has been purified and strengthened. Because we know that our salvation is sure. Because we are becoming more like Jesus.

The counterfeit joy that this world offers is based on avoiding unpleasantness of any kind…forget about suffering. It’s a joy that is hollow, self-seeking and fleeting. It disappears when the storms of life come. Unfortunately that’s the only joy that many of us pursue. But true joy…inexpressible joy…comes only from following Jesus, taking up our cross and being willing to suffer with Him. Seems like an odd way to find joy…especially an inexpressible joy…but there it is. That kind of joy is independent of circumstance…good or bad, suffering or rejoicing…it remains unshaken.

It’s not that suffering in and of itself brings joy, but it’s our identification with Jesus…it’s the family resemblance. Suffering for my faith is the only suffering that I have some control over…I can avoid it by not living out my faith or I can embrace it when it comes while pursuing Jesus. I’ll only suffer for what I know to be true in my life. That’s where inexpressible joy comes in…knowing that I have a living hope and an imperishable inheritance protected by God…that truth has to marinate my life. The only way I know to do that is by time spent in God’s Word and hiding it in my heart. Find a passage like 1 Peter 1.3-5 that encourages you and commit it to memory so that when storms come you can face them with truth.

So what if I’m not distressed by various trials? What if I’m not suffering persecution of any kind for my faith? First question would be, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you…the day that you are adopted into God’s family…living hope, imperishable inheritance, inexpressible joy and true peace can all be yours. You just have to recognize that you are a sinner in need of repentance, believe that Jesus can save you and trust Him to do so. Welcome to the rebellion.

If you have trusted in Jesus, then is it obvious to those around you? Does your life look any different than theirs? Actions…attitudes…language? Is there anything that would distinguish you from them? If the answer is “yes.” Then keep living out your faith. Trials will come…they may look different for you than for me…but they will come because we live in enemy territory. But if the answer is “no,” there’s a good chance that the folks around you are not mistaking you for being a Christian. You see, if you are living according to this world’s standards and behaving like everyone else…why would you be persecuted? You will not experience the inexpressible joy that Peter is describing…only the counterfeit joy that disappears when hard times come.

Do you have joy, real joy in Jesus? Do other people want the joy that you have?

This Christmas season I pray that you will experience the inexpressible joy that only Jesus can bring…the joy of knowing that He, your King is coming, the joy of knowing your salvation is secure, the joy of knowing Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Our Reclaimed Hope

Daniel 12

What a ride! Fourteen weeks in the book of Daniel. Terrifying visions, steadfast faith, incredible courage, uncompromising commitment, a new chapter. The rules have changed during the Time of the Gentiles. Where doing the right thing once brought blessing, it now brings a curse (ex. fiery furnace and lions’  den). Conforming to the surrounding culture brings comfort. Good is called evil, and evil good. Right and wrong are a matter of public opinion. Following God will not be easy, but for those with insight and the courage to persevere, their inheritance is secure. As the divine messenger says, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” In the midst of a world seemingly out of control, Daniel is reminded (and reminds us) that God is still in control… “For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the ages; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him.” So don’t give up, don’t give in…God wins.

The first six chapters of Daniel are story…the adventures of Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah in the kingdoms of Babylon and Persia. Daniel receives his first two visions while Belshazzar is king…still under the dominion of the first beast, Babylon. He receives these visions before the “handwriting on the wall” of Daniel 5. Daniel’s prayer and the last two visions are during the time of Darius/Cyrus. Why is that important? Because Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den (Daniel 6) could very well have come after this final vision. His response to persecution/suffering should inform our response…God can, God will, but even if He doesn’t, He is still sovereign and actively involved in the events of my life and is working for my good and His glory. And just as prayer was an indispensable part of Daniel’s life, it should be of ours as well.

God’s faithfulness to deliver the fantastic four…His faithfulness to deliver His people throughout history … should cause God’s people to want to be faithful in the face of tribulation and oppression. The Daniel’s visions are given within a context of persecution…there was tremendous pressure for him to compromise and even abandon his faith. Daniel writes to persuade folks who are suffering persecution to hold fast their faith and endure because God will rescue them even through death by resurrection (many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake…to everlasting life). Like the fantastic four, we too are tempted to compromise and abandon our faith, but don’t do it. We are called to live out our faith in a hostile world no matter the cost, being available to be used by God to boldly, yet compassionately point those on our impact list to Jesus, knowing that good triumphs in the end. Don’t give up, don’t give in…Jesus wins.

Is your name written in the book? Only those whose name is written in the book will be rescued and resurrected to everlasting life. And the only way to have your name written in the book…trusting in Jesus to rescue you. Then you too, like Daniel, will receive your allotted inheritance in the eternal kingdom. If your name is not in the book, or if you’re not sure…if you don’t know the God that Daniel speaks of today, the God of heaven, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, the Revealer of Mysteries, the Rescuer of our souls, please don’t wait. Only those who have insight, whose names are in the book…who have trusted in Jesus for everlasting life will be a part of His eternal kingdom. The rest will spend an eternity apart from Him. Lack of understanding will be no excuse.

May God give us the courage and steadfastness of Daniel to face life in the fourth kingdom, and may we do it with an undying hope.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on our Daniel series entitled Reclaimed. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on twitter: @ccclancaster