Jerusalem Outbrief

Acts 15.22-41

The church in Antioch anxiously awaits the decision of the Jerusalem Council regarding the question of whether the Gentiles had to first become Jews before becoming Christians. The Council is unified in its decision…a decision that they discerned the Holy Spirit leading them to. Salvation is by faith alone. For both Jews and Gentiles. Both must believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and new life in Him.

We get in trouble when we expect unbelievers to act like believers before they can be believers. Or when we want them to clean up their act before they come to church. Adding a list of do’s or do not’s to faith is legalism. Until a person has trusted in Jesus, the do’s and do not’s have absolutely no impact on their lives. Dead is dead. It is only faith in Jesus that saves…only faith in Him that gives life.

We also get in trouble when we impose our version of Christianity on other believers. When we expect their walk with Jesus will look exactly like ours. No doubt the Bible has a lot to say about the things we should do and the things we shouldn’t do as believers. But the doing or not doing of those things doesn’t save us, and in and of themselves those things cannot make us more like Jesus. Only the Spirit can do that…only He can transform us to live and love like Jesus. But we do or don’t do out of obedience to Him…because we love Him…not because we intend to get something selfish out of it.

One last thing, and it’s a big thing. We are to turn from vain things to the living God because those vain things only bring death. But I think sometimes we don’t really want to turn from those vain things. We want to hold on to them. Even though Jesus has freed us from them, we keep running back to them and we continue to drag them along because we foolishly think they will somehow give us life. Like the Israelites, we keep wanting to run back to Egypt. And so we may continue in a sexually immoral relationship because we think that’s life. And so we continue our shady business dealings because we think the bank it generates gives us life. And so we continue to live our lives like the world revolves around us…promoting ourselves…because we think it somehow gives us life. But those things don’t bring true life. Only the illusion of life. And once it’s gone, then we can see them for what they really are…vain idols that only bring death.

What is it you need to turn from today, so that you can turn to Jesus? What do you need to let go of, so that you can lay hold of 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

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.

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

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

Acceptance and Opposition: Iconium

Acts 14.1-7

Paul and Barnabas face both acceptance and opposition in the ancient city of Iconium. Initially the response is super positive…a large number of both Jews and Greeks believe. But then opposition comes from those who refuse to believe. The sad thing is, those refusing to believe do so because they have rejected their Messiah. What should have been the greatest news ever received with the greatest excitement ever is instead met with hostility and extreme prejudice.

And while we may wish it were otherwise…that is the norm. Some accept, but most will reject. Didn’t Jesus say something about that…“the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it…the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7.13-14).

Paul could have easily given up on his mission. Think about his experience up to this point…run out of both Damascus and Jerusalem and threatened with death, benched for awhile (about eight years) in Tarsus, has a spiritual showdown with a false prophet named Bar-Jesus, persecuted and driven out of Pisidian Antioch, and now once again on the run coming out of Iconium. Of course there were successes along the way as well…a great many people brought into the kingdom through his teaching of the gospel. Through it all, Paul remains faithful to his calling…he continues to speak out boldly, unashamed of Jesus. In fact, later on he will say, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20.24).

We too will face opposition and suffering when we choose to follow Jesus and when we share the gospel…why? Because some accept, but most will reject. Knowing that is a part of the gig, let us not shrink back, but let us also be faithful to our calling…to be witnesses, to share our story. Let us do so boldly, unashamed of Jesus…so that we too can finish the course and make a kingdom impact.

Your impact list is a great place to start. Your impact list is a good way to think about the folks who have a front row seat to your life…family, friends, co-workers/classmates, teammates, etc. Pick one and pray for the opportunity to share your story with them. Pray that you would be bold. Pray that you would be courageous. Pray that you would be steadfast…endure and be faithful while you have opportunity. Pray that God will use you to impact their life for the kingdom, and that they in turn will have a kingdom impact in another’s life. And after you pray, take action and make an Impact for Jesus.

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

Generous Giving

2 Corinthians 9.6-15

So why talk about money? Because money…how we use it…is a good indication of our spiritual health. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges His disciples not to worry…about food or clothing…the necessities of life…God will provide for us just as He does for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. He says instead that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.

Generosity is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity. Throughout church history, the care for the poor was a sign of the church. It won converts, it was a witness in itself of the power and provision of God. Because our Father is generous, He wants His kids to be generous too. The liberating joy of our salvation should loosen our grip on our earthly fortunes…our stuff…and free us up to give with unbridled generosity. We, as believers, should be the most generous folks on the planet!

But so often we’re not. And maybe it’s because we have too low a view of God. Maybe we’re afraid to trust Him because deep down inside we believe Him to be stingy…that somehow He might hold out on us. And if we give away what we have, there won’t be enough for us. Yeah…but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints of who God is…think about the number of stars in the heavens, the number of galaxies, the greatness and vastness of space. In the Genesis account, when God creates the sun, moon and stars, what is their purpose? To give light to the earth, and for signs and for seasons. Seems to be a bit extravagant, doesn’t it?

What about God’s grace and His mercy and His love? His boundless, immeasurable love? The cross where the sins of all mankind were placed on His beloved Son. Every sin atoned for. Every one. So that all might be saved…if they will believe in Jesus.

So if God is so generous in these things…both in creation and in redemption, then why would He be stingy in providing for our needs? Our generosity problem has nothing to do with our wealth or lack thereof. It has everything to do with our faith and obedience. So the question is, do you trust God enough to give generously?

If so, where might you start? Well, if you’ve never given before you’ve got to build your giving muscles. Maybe you have given sporadically. This year I challenge you to be intentional, sit down with your family and pick an amount and give that amount regularly. Sign up for online giving. Revisit your giving throughout the year to see how you’re doing. If you’ve been a consistent giver, make it a goal to increase that amount…shoot for generous. Watch how God provides. Strive to become a generous giver, not a bigger barn builder. Remember God provides for us so that we can then provide for others. When we invest in the kingdom, it pays eternal dividends.

Make 2019 the year that generous giving becomes a priority for you. Taste and see that the Lord is good…test Him in this. Malachi 3:10 says this, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” We have a money back guarantee when we bountifully sow…when we richly invest in the kingdom of our generous God.

pro rege

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

Daily Devotion

Hebrews 5.11-14

Paul says it this way in Romans 12.2, “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” By spending daily time in God’s Word, the Spirit takes the truth that we have read and begins to transform us, so that whatever the situation, we can discern what it is that God would have us do.

There is no such thing as pause or neutral in life. We are either growing or not, progressing or regressing. We can train our bodies…we can go to the gym, we can eat right, etc., and we will see progress. We will get stronger, faster, more agile (generally)…of course I know that as you get older there is that law of diminishing returns thing, but humor me. If you skipped going to the gym for a time, or didn’t run or ride your bike, you find out pretty quickly how much you’ve lost. The same is true intellectually. If we stop learning, our brains begin to shrink. Emotionally, if we withdraw from people, we lose the ability to relate. It’s true in every area of life…if we don’t use it, we lose it. So how do we miss it spiritually? It should be obvious that if we are not growing spiritually then we are shrinking. We are moving backward. We are losing whatever ground we may at one time have gained.

Spiritual infants might struggle with these questions/statements…

  • I need to go to church regularly? I’ve never heard that before. 
  • I need to pray regularly and read the Bible regularly? I’ve never heard that before. How would I do that? 
  • I didn’t know the Bible said that. 
  • Giving? What’s that? 
  • I’ve always connected with God through nature. Being outdoors is my church. 
  • I don’t need anyone else. It’s just me and Jesus.
  • I know Jesus is God, but isn’t karma real too? 
  • Trinity? Huh? Now you’ve got me confused. 
  • My wife and I just got baptized, and on the way home from church we got into a big fight. What’s up with all that? I thought Jesus was supposed to take care of all our problems.

So, if you suspect that you might be an “infant”, how do you begin your path to maturity? Get ready to have your mind blown…start training today with a simple Bible reading plan. For those of you who have trained physically for anything…sport, music, hobby, school…you know that you have to build up to your goal. Big gains are possible, but it’s gradual…slow and steady. Think tortoise and not hare. Training, not trying. If you are trying, then you may be tempted to give up when you fail. But the beauty of training is that failure is built into the process. Sometimes hard to do in our microwave, google, instant access society…we want everything now…but it takes patience and an ability to take the long view.

Where to start reading? What do you like to read? Do you like poetry? Start with Psalms. Do you like wisdom literature, pithy sayings? Then, Proverbs. Action? Genesis or 1 Samuel or Mark. But read the Bible and not just about the Bible. What I mean by that is…many folks read devotional books and count that as their Bible time. Devotional books are great, but don’t let them replace your Bible. Pick a book and start. Work your way up to the heavier books like Isaiah or Ezekiel or Romans or Revelation. Pray before you start that God will help you put into practice what you’re learning. And if you miss a day? Don’t beat yourself up, just start again.

Let us press on to maturity then, spending daily time in God’s Word, training our senses to discern good and evil so that we might live and love like Jesus.

pro rege

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