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.

pro rege

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.

pro rege

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.

pro rege

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

From Persecutor to Preacher

Acts 9.19.b-31

Saul goes from being a persecutor to a preacher. Jesus has changed everything. He has passed from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…his sins have been forgiven and his destiny will never be the same. Good news, right? Right?

And yet for Saul the good news is met with disdain by his one-time-friends turned enemies and doubt by his one-time-enemies turned friends. Except for Barnabas. He recognizes Saul’s sincere belief and welcomes him into the fold.

Saul is excited about his new-found faith. He can’t wait to tell others about Jesus. That’s a good thing. His excitement is not quenched even when met with hostility and the threat of death. Still he will preach the gospel and face whatever trial may come. Saul’s time alone with the Lord…in His Word and in prayer…fuels his fire and prepares him for what inevitably will come.

Are you like Saul, maybe new to the faith, excited about the road ahead, anticipating the impact that you will have for the kingdom? Realize that challenges will come. Some of those challenges will come from unbelieving friends who feel like you’ve walked away from them. Some of those challenges will come from other believers who can’t believe you trusted in Jesus. Take courage. Either way, you have to be faithful to what God has called you to do…tell people about Jesus…share your story. Spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer and time fellowshipping with other believers, allowing your faith to grow and deepen and mature. And be patient. Saul’s greatest impact will come years later…

Are you like Barnabas, an encourager who comes alongside, a welcomer-in of those on the fringes? Some definitely have the gift of encouragement…you know who you are and so do the folks who know you well. Keep doing it. We need you. But I think all of us can be a Barnabas to an extent. All of us can come alongside another. You see, discipleship is not just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. God never intended us to walk the path alone. We need each other. Paul uses both the analogy of a body and of a house to describe our interconnectedness…our interdependence on one another. The person you may be encouraging may be the one God wants to use to turn this world upside down. Like Saul.

Maybe you haven’t yet had an encounter with Jesus. Maybe you think you are too far gone to be saved. You’re not. Saul wasn’t. Neither are you. God wants to work a miracle in your life…to bring you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son…to give your life purpose and meaning and to use you to impact the lives of those around you for His kingdom. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

For the rest of us, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What impact will you have on the kingdom?

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

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