Going to Jerusalem

Acts 21.1-16

Paul finishes up his third and final missionary journey and reaches Jerusalem. Along the way he’s had the opportunity to meet with fellow believers…brothers and sisters…whom he’s been able to encourage, but who have also warned him of the impending danger to come.

Twice the Spirit has revealed to folks along Paul’s path that trouble awaits him in Jerusalem. For Paul it’s nothing new…he’s met with trouble at almost every turn. Suffering has been an expected part of his journey. And yet his well-meaning friends want to spare him from it.

Kind of reminds me of this interchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew. Right after Peter makes his historic proclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16.16), we are told…“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ 23But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s’” (Matthew 16.21-23).

That must have been shocking for Peter to hear! Especially after getting it so right. I think too often we are like Peter…suffering doesn’t feel like winning. If Jesus already conquered sin and death at the cross, then why should we suffer? If we are on the winning side, what gives? We want the glory…but the suffering? No thank you. And yet because we live in a world which has declared open war against its Creator…a world enthralled by the great serpent of old who is the devil and Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of the sons of disobedience…we will suffer. There will always be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman…between those who reject God and those who follow Him.

Too often I think we are under the mistaken impression that God’s will for us is happiness as we define it. You might have heard it said, “God wants me to be happy. Therefore if I’m not happy then I’m not in God’s will.” Or “Suffering causes me pain, and surely God doesn’t want me to be in pain. Therefore suffering can’t be God’s will for me.” And so we make it about us and not about Him. We are the main character in the Story. That’s a dangerous place to be. Especially given that suffering is a prominent theme throughout the NT. Of course I’m talking about suffering for following Jesus and not suffering that comes as the predictable outcome…the consequence…of questionable choices (1 Peter 4).

Jesus’ definition of happiness…Matthew 5.3-12, “Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed (happy) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5Blessed (happy) are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7Blessed (happy) are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8Blessed (happy) are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9Blessed (happy) are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed (happy) are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed (happy) are you when people insult you and persecute you because of Me. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So the question is, knowing that suffering is a part of the deal, will we resolve to follow Jesus no matter what? Let me be clear…we don’t choose suffering, we choose to follow Jesus. Suffering is just a predictable outcome of making that choice.

Let me challenge you this week to make that choice…maybe write it in a journal or on a Post-It note. Put it somewhere where you are going to see it. Set a reminder on your phone. “Today I’m going to follow Jesus…no matter what!”

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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

This Is Living with Your Family

1 Peter 3

Submitting to those God has placed in authority over us is never easy, but when we do so, we show our trust is in God to take care of us and see us through, come what may. In all our relationships we are to do good, and seek the good of those around us. Our good behavior will influence some to trust in Jesus. But not all. So when suffering comes from doing right, we need not fear but can rejoice because we are following the example of Jesus.

Noah obeyed God and did the right thing even though the world around him was clearly not. He showed his trust in God by continuing to do the right thing even while suffering for it. And he and his family were saved because of his faith.

Once again we see a strong call to be in or out…you are either for or against Jesus. He’s already paid the penalty for our sin so that we can have a relationship with God. Why not trust in Him today?

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

This Is Living Out Your Faith

1 Peter 4

The way of following Jesus is difficult and treacherous, full of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows…definitely not the easiest path through life. You’ve declared your allegiance to the true King and have become a traitor to this world. Those who once called you friend have become bitter foes. Your world has been turned upside down.

And yet it’s the best decision you could have ever made. Because now there is a real sense of purpose and meaning to your life, a direction. And you are experiencing joy you couldn’t have imagined and a peace that just doesn’t make sense, given your circumstances. You are a citizen of the kingdom with an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life. Suffering will come…but it comes to everyone…whether that suffering comes because of your faith or because you live on this planet, do right and trust God to see you through.

But what if that’s not your experience? First question is, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you… If you have trusted in Jesus, have you turned fully to Him, or are you still hanging on to your old life? Many of us miss out on the fullness of life that Jesus calls us to and saved us for because we give a nod to Him but continue to pursue life the way we want to live it. If that’s you, let me invite you to make a clean break with your old way of life today…your selfish and self-centered way of living life…and turn fully to Jesus.

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This post is based on a sermon from our This Is Living series in 1 Peter. 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

First Missionary Journey Wrap-up

Acts 14.20b-28

Paul and Barnabas finish up a successful trip to Derbe and then make the return trek back through the cities they had previously visited to strengthen, encourage, warn and equip the churches planted there, appointing elders to provide ongoing spiritual leadership. Returning to Syrian Antioch, they out brief the church with the exciting news of God’s work among the Gentiles.

The churches that Paul and Barnabas planted were all deep in enemy territory. They had crashed the gates of hell and rescued many captives. And while those captives had been freed and while they had changed their allegiance and served a new King, they were still living their day-to-day lives in cities lying within the serpent’s dominion…in a culture hell-bent on destroying them. No wonder Paul warns them about tribulations to come…no wonder he warns them about persecution and suffering. The more they look like Jesus, the more the enemy will pursue them. Darkness hates the light…the brighter the light, the more vehemently the attempt to extinguish it. But they need not fear. Jesus has already won the day! Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning! Suffering may come, but it’s just the prelude to glory.

We like the glory part. We like the kingdom part. But if we’re honest, we’re not really down for the suffering part. In fact, often we will do whatever we can to avoid it. We want to follow Jesus without cost or consequence. What we really want is the American Dream with a Christian veneer, and suffering doesn’t jive with that. Some of us may even wonder if we’re doing the right thing as a Christian if and when we face trials because of it. We’ve forgotten that this world is not our home. And yet the constant testimony of Jesus and the rest of the NT is that suffering is a fundamental part of the Christian life.

The good news is…we are never alone in suffering for Jesus. Somehow Paul says that we can experience the perfect peace of God in the midst of chaos, joy in the midst of pain, hope in the deepest darkness. We don’t have to give up or give in because Jesus has already won the day. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He will see us through until we see Him again. And we have a heavenly Father who delights in us and desires our good…who loves us so completely that we will spend an eternity trying to comprehend His amazing love for us.

For some of us the idea of suffering for our faith aka persecution may be a foreign concept. Everyone who walks this planet has at some time or will at some time suffer. Guaranteed. That’s part of living this side of the garden where my sin and your sin and our sin and the brokenness of this world collide in some pretty nasty ways to create all of kinds of chaos in our lives. I’m not talking about that kind of suffering. I’m talking about the kind of suffering that comes because you are a Christian. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when your light shines in a dark place. It’s the kind of suffering that comes when you dare to share your story…to share the gospel with someone else. That’s something very different.

If suffering for your faith is a foreign concept, maybe you have a “Who is Jesus?” problem. Maybe you are looking for a Jesus who meets your expectations. A Jesus who will rescue you from your sins, but not One who will change you too much. But Jesus didn’t come just make your life easier or more comfortable…He came to radically transform you, to make you into a new creation. To unleash you against the armies of hell. He bids you to come and die so that you may truly live.

Maybe today is the day that you need to recommit to following Jesus, no matter what the cost, remembering that suffering comes before glory.

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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

Who’s the Boss?

Acts 12.1-25

The story begins and ends with a man named Herod. At the outset he kills one of the Apostles and arrests a second, but in the end he is killed by an angel of the Lord for his arrogance. Herod thought that he was the one who was in control…that he was the boss. He found out he was wrong. Dead wrong.

Once again we see the importance of prayer in the early church, and the importance of prayer in moving the mission forward. They prayed collectively, and they prayed fervently. They knew that prayer was their primary weapon in the war against the forces of darkness. I wonder if we know the same? Is prayer our primary go-to…our first response, or is it something we try when all else fails? When we pray, we recognize our dependence on God…He’s in control…He’s the Boss (Philippians 4.8). When we don’t pray, who are we depending on?

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize who’s the boss…who’s in control, especially when we are focused on our circumstances. When we see the world from a circumstantial point of view, it sure looks like we’re losing. Just watch the news. Take a look at social media. Hatred, hostility and violence are up, kindness, patience, decency are down…forget about love. Christianity is reviled and mocked, and those who hold to biblical values are called “haters” or “bigots” or “backwards”. It’s all the more reason to pray. Because we need an eternal perspective. The folks who attack us are not our enemy…they are held captive by our Enemy. Just like we were. Our job is not to rage against them, but to love them. To serve them. To share our story with them. To tell them about Jesus. That’s not easy. Again we need to pray! So this week, I challenge you to get down on your knees and pray…whatever the chaos in your life, whatever chains are binding you…make prayer your first response and watch what God does.

There’s only One who’s the Boss. Only One qualified for that job description. Only One King of kings and Lord of lords. Our Creator. Our Savior. Our Redeemer. And though the world around us is shaking, He can never be shaken. He is never caught off guard…never says, “Whoops”. We can therefore have confidence because He has promised never to leave us or forsake us.

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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