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

My Grace Is Sufficient for You

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…’” 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

As we come to the close of our reading in Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, I cannot help but be drawn to the sufferings Paul experienced for the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 12.

Five times Paul received 39 lashes in ministering to the Jews. Many times a person would die during the punishment. Paul survived 5 times.

Paul was also beaten by the Gentiles with rods 3 times.

He was stoned by a mob in Lystra (see Acts 14) and left for dead.

The dangers on highways, seas and other travels were always a real part of his journeys.

Paul was also attacked within the churches verbally by false teachers.

It is hard to imagine the physical pain Paul must have felt, but the spiritual struggles of his ministry seem to have been an even greater burden.

Despite the pressures he felt from the churches he founded and the opposition that faced him everywhere he went, Paul pressed on.

How could he continue? What made him press on for the Gospel?

He believed the things he wrote. He understood and believed in the reality of heaven and eternity, the potency of the Gospel, and God’s mercy and grace.

For Paul, the reality of heaven was real. He knew his citizenship was eternal and in heaven.

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

Paul understood the potency of the Gospel.

“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” ! Corinthians 4:20 ESV

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:16 ESV

Finally, Paul understood the magnitude of God’s mercy and grace.

Paul was a blasphemer, persecutor and enemy of the followers of the way. Yet God granted Paul mercy and grace, calling him to a lifetime of service.

It was the love of Christ that enabled him to absorb the beatings, persecutions, imprisonments, and challenges of ministry.

Paul understood that in his weakness, God’s power was demonstrated.

This enables us to understand that our trials and sufferings actually qualify us to proclaim the Gospel and teach others about Jesus.

He uses our sufferings to demonstrate His sufficiency. God can use our afflictions to provide comfort to others.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…’”

His power is made perfect in my weakness. Amen!

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim

Sources used for this blog: ESV Study Bible, Courson’s New Testament Application Commentary, Gospel Transformation Bible

The Abomination of Desolation

Daniel 11

History and prophecy. This passage gives us hope for the future. Understanding how God fulfilled the now historical aspects of Daniel’s vision in the past gives us confidence…it strengthens our faith and hope that He will do the same with those aspects that are yet future. God is sovereign over, and is actively involved in, the events on the world stage…past, present and future; and He’s also sovereign over, and actively involved in, the events of our lives as well. Don’t give up, don’t give in, God wins.

The description of the political and military intrigue of this passage is a kind of blueprint of history…folks fighting back and forth, trying to expand their kingdoms by any means necessary, whether by deceit or treachery or outright war. It’s true of both nations and individuals. As Solomon famously said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” But even more fascinating is the battle that has raged for millennia over this one piece of real estate…Israel. We see it even today. And no doubt that current events are playing somehow into Daniel’s vision of the future.

We are reminded once again that evil will not ultimately triumph. Good overcomes evil. The Seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent. God wins in the end. Jesus defeated Satan at the cross, but we await the final working out of his defeat. In the meantime, we live under the dominion of the beasts, where evil is called and good is called evil. We should expect this to be a time of suffering and opposition from the enemy, as we are called to follow God and to oppose wickedness. And like the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6, we may wonder, “How long, O Lord…?”

Though “evil does not reign supreme, neither will it ever cease altogether until God reigns supreme.” The road is not an easy one, and our determination to follow the Lord will be tested again and again. Sadly, many of the Jews living at the time of Antiochus IV gave up on the faith of their fathers and gave in to the culture. But there were those who refused to give up or give in…those who had insight, who relied on their God, gave understanding to the many. The answer to “how long?” is, “not forever.” And the good news is…we are not alone in the struggle. Jesus promises never to leave us or forsake us. He’s also placed us in a body of believers so that we can bear one another’s burdens and take up arms for the spiritual battle together. We look forward to the day when God, who has rescued us from sin and death through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, will one day bring us into His glorious kingdom. Our hope is resurrection…Daniel 12. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. God wins.

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

Shining Lights of Hope

“… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” 1 Peter 3:15

In the coming months, as we continue through our reading plan,  we will explore the writings and thoughts of the apostles – Peter, Paul, and John.

Paul is often called the apostle of faith – we study his profound teaching on the doctrine of justification by faith.

John is often called the apostle of love – his message of love is demonstrated throughout his writings.

Peter is often called the apostle of hope – hope is the answer to persecution and difficulty.

Faith, hope, and love – major themes of the Bible.

As we conclude our thoughts on Peter this week I thought it only fitting to write about hope.

1&2 Peter were written in a time of great persecution for the Christians. Nero was Emperor, Rome was on fire, and Nero was persecuting and torturing Christians.

Peter was writing during this troublesome time, during which whole families were tortured and murdered for sport.

Peter stresses hope as the answer to this time of persecution and difficulty.

Although we live in a world with little physical persecution here in the United States, we are surrounded by spiritual warfare, gang warfare, political warfare and civil unrest to name a few.

At times, and during seasons of our lives, we may feel the darkness, stress and anxiety that comes from living in this world.

Here in the Antelope Valley – the high desert area of Southern California, the sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular.

On a clear night, we can see a vast array of stars shining brightly in the darkness. Each day we know with nightfall, the darkness will come, but the stars will shine bright.

At times, and during seasons of our lives, we may feel the darkness, the anxiety of death – something we will all face, the turmoil throughout the world, wondering if it’ll ever reach us.

Yet during these times, when experiencing loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of hope in the things around us, the Apostle Peter reminds us – our hope is a “living hope” a spiritual, an everlasting hope, not a human hope.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” 1 Peter 1:3 NASB

Our hope is in Jesus and the things to come, not in the things of this world.

Peter goes on to teach us in 1 Peter 3:15:

“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…” 1 Peter 3:15 NASB

Others will ask us why we are hopeful amidst the chaos.

It is during these dark times that we are reminded to let our hope shine brightly in the darkness.

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim

Sources used for this blog: Courson’s Application Commentary – New Testament