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

Saul’s Story

Acts 9.1-19a

Saul has an encounter with Jesus, and his life is forever changed. And not just his life. God will use him to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth…planting churches and writing letters which will make up a majority of the NT. Saul’s encounter with Jesus is so significant not only to the book of Acts, but also in the history of the church that this is the first of three times that his conversion is talked about in the story.

Saul was chosen for a purpose…God would use him to have a unique impact on the kingdom. Ananias was chosen for a purpose…he will be the one to commission Saul. God has also chosen you for a purpose…He wants to use you to have a unique impact on the kingdom. Do you realize that? Maybe you’ve never heard that before, but God chose you for a purpose…and the purpose isn’t so that you could go to heaven. If that were the case, you would already be there. No, He chose you so that you would have a kingdom impact on the folks around you. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2.8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Jesus calls it “bearing fruit”. You have been chosen for a purpose.

Ananias was surprised that the Lord would have him go and find Saul…probably even more surprised that the church’s greatest enemy would become its greatest ally. Who is it in your life that God may be calling you to share your story with? Who is it that you think is beyond reach? Saul’s story is a reminder and an encouragement that no one is beyond the reach of the gospel. No one is so lost that they cannot be found, so blind that they cannot see, so dead that they cannot be made alive. Do you believe that today? Do you believe that there is nothing you could have ever done that could keep you from Jesus?

We see God’s fingerprints all over this story. It’s no accident that Saul comes to faith. Not only does Jesus appear to Saul on the road to Damascus, He also appears to Saul a second time and to Ananias to arrange a meet and greet. God is in control. He’s in control of the events of this story, and He’s in control of the events in your story.

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 new 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.

If you have had an encounter with Jesus, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What kind of impact are you going to 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

Three Marriage Assassins

Ephesians 4.29, Genesis 2.22-25, Matthew 6.9-15

Unwholesome communication. Unfaithfulness. Unforgiveness. Three assassins that can kill your marriage if left unattended.

Jesus can and does heal and restore broken marriages. He is the only hope we have for a successful marriage…only He can transform us through the Spirit to live and love like Him. But we have to put Him first…in our individual lives and in our marriage. Doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges…that these assassins won’t be lurking, but it means that we are committed to seeing our marriage through for the glory of God until death do us part.

Earlier I said, “No wonder for the average church attender the divorce rate within the church is about the same as that outside the church.” That may be true for the average church attender, but according to Focus on the Family (Divorce Rate in the Church – As High as the World? by Glenn Stanton), those who take their faith seriously, those pursuing their relationship with Jesus wholeheartedly, are 35% less likely to divorce than those outside the church. That’s way better, but still too high.

When you said “I do”, you entered into a covenant with God that is to remain unbroken. The two of you became one. Physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. That’s why sex outside of marriage is so dangerous…it pollutes the oneness of your relationship. So what happens when the one tries to become two again? Both are destroyed. Not to mention the collateral damage to your kids. It’s not what God intended. There’s no such thing as a good divorce. It’s not too late, and you are not too far gone…there is help and hope for your marriage.

If you have already experienced the devastating effects of divorce, don’t lose heart. God’s faithfulness never changes. Pursue your relationship with Him and make Him your first priority. He can and will use you to impact the kingdom in significant ways just has He has with countless others who have experienced the painful realities of life this side of the garden. The Bible is riddled with their stories.

If you are single, one of the best things you can do to prepare for marriage, if that’s the route you feel God calling you to, is to pursue your relationship with Jesus and make Him your highest priority…don’t wait until you’re married. Become the kind of spouse God wants you to be today.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

God’s Design for Marriage

Genesis 2.18-25, Ephesians 5.22-33

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding…Jesus’ first miracle is at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. God takes marriage seriously. So should we.

Our culture would have us believe that the goal of marriage is happily ever after. If your spouse isn’t doing that for you, then by all means, find someone who will. If the frog doesn’t turn into a prince, try another frog. If the princess stops looking like a princess, then find someone else who does. It’s about my needs and what I want. Self is king. No marriage can survive that…Christian or otherwise.

But the goal of marriage isn’t happily ever after. The goal of marriage is what the Bible calls oneness…a husband and wife who are pursuing their lives together in Jesus as one. Marriage is not an agreement or a contract. Marriage is a covenant. A sacred covenant that we make before God that is to remain unbroken. That’s why we make our vows publicly…to be loyal in adversity, patient in sickness, encouraging in affliction, comforting in sorrow, and forsaking all others, keeping ourselves only unto our spouse, so long as we both shall live. That’s why we say things like…“I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others to cleave only to you till death do us part. This is my solemn vow.” That’s why we exchange rings. It’s why we say, “Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

The only hope we have for a successful marriage is Jesus…only He can transform us through the Spirit to live and love like Him. Only He can give us an eternal perspective on life and a compelling reason to invest everything in the kingdom. It’s only when I’m pursuing Him in earnest, that I will even have the desire to love my wife well. It’s only when she is pursuing Him the same way that she will have the desire to submit to me. If each of us is committed to being a godly spouse, we will have a godly marriage. Doesn’t mean we won’t have challenges…that’s part of life outside the garden, but it means that we are committed to seeing it through for the glory of God until death do us part.

If you are married today, I want to ask you to do something this week. Think about your marriage. Would you say that you are on track, pursuing oneness with each other as you pursue your relationship with Jesus? Wives, are you submitting to your husband? Husbands are you loving and leading your wife well? Is Jesus your first love? Once you’ve had time to think about it, why not talk to your spouse about it.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Prayer

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is often the first bit of Bible that folks commit to memory. And rightly so. It’s brought comfort to countless numbers of folks throughout the ages.

When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.

It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.

The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.

One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m on the step mill at the gym, when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. “He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection [1726], London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)

Someone asked me, “Is prayer for us or for God?” Interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbors…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things and who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.

But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…, but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He that He is leading us and never leaves us alone in the midst of our darkest times. He will see us through, whatever the storm.

Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they reflected my own thinking at some point in time. I do think what we ask God is important, but primarily for this reason…it reveals where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to make us like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and time spent in prayer just talking to your Father.

Psalm 23 reminds me of who God is. So when I come to Him in prayer, I can thank Him for taking care of me…guiding me, directing me, providing for my needs, protecting me, His presence with me.

I want us to practice praying. We’re going to use Psalm 23 as a guide. You can pray right where you are. Start with… “The LORD is my shepherd…” Take each part of that statement and emphasize a different word. Thank Him for being your Shepherd. 

Ask God to provide for your needs.

Ask God to direct your paths.

Thank God for being with you in both green pastures and dark valleys, in both good and bad times. If you are in a bad time right now, ask Him to remind you often of His presence with you and for His help to weather the storm.

Thank God for His goodness and His lovingkindness that pursues you…for His abundant grace in your life.

Thank God for the promise of the kingdom and eternal life that is yours.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Gift of Giving

1 Chronicles 29.1-20

Giving is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. You have heard me say often…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, and fellowship with other believers as often as you can, but giving is another one of those disciplines that’s at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know how we can express love…for God or for our neighbor…without giving. Giving of our time. Giving of our abilities. Giving of our resources. Giving of ourselves. Giving reflects the love that God so generously has shown toward us in Jesus.

When I was growing up, giving was not a practice my parents modeled. With eight kids…money was always tight. So giving wasn’t something I was used to…and putting myself through college, I never had two nickels to rub together as my dad would say. I didn’t think I could afford to give. So it wasn’t until I met my wife Wendy that I even considered giving as a spiritual discipline. And even then, I wasn’t sure how the giving thing would work out. But we did it anyway, and we haven’t looked back since.

If giving is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” Let me just challenge you to try it. Pick an amount and begin to give regularly. Set a goal…maybe ten percent, and build those giving muscles until you reach it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. When we’ve given, God’s always been faithful to meet our needs. But a word of caution…it’s not just something to do to check a box or somehow promote yourself. God cares about our hearts when we give…what’s our motivation? Is it to please Him? Is it to further His kingdom work? Make sure He has you first…all of you. Then the right motivation and the want-to for giving will be there.

Everything that we have comes from God. We are merely stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Whether He’s entrusted us with little like the widow or much like King David, it’s all His. We have to keep that in mind. Sometime it’s harder to give when you have more…our stuff tends to capture our hearts and cause us to want more. Many times it’s those who have the least who give the most…who are the most generous. The amount may not be as much, but the sacrifice is greater and the joy of giving more abundant.

For some of us, giving is a discipline that we’ve practiced for awhile. Somewhere along your spiritual journey, someone challenged you to make giving a regular practice, and so you’ve done it for years. Thank you for your faithfulness. My question for you is…is giving a duty or a delight? Have you passed from giving to giving generously?

This is one area that I wanted to challenge myself in this year, so I came up with a simple plan that you are free to steal. Whenever I’m in line, I will offer to pay for the person behind me. Not every time, but every time the Spirit brings it to mind. It creates the opportunity for some great conversation, and it’s helping me stretch from giving to giving generously.

Giving isn’t just a resource thing…one of the most valuable commodities we have is time. It may also be the thing we are least likely to give up. So maybe exercising your giving muscles with your time looks like making “yes” your default answer instead of “no”. Seeing interruptions as opportunities to minister instead of distractions to be avoided.

So why not give giving a try, and you too can experience what a gift it really is.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8.26-40

Philip shares his story and the good news of the gospel with both the crowds and with an individual. He is a faithful servant who obeys the will of His Master. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost and invites us to join Him in that mission.

This story is a reminder that God cares about each one of us individually. Here He orchestrates events and circumstances so that both the eunuch and Philip are in the right place at the right time. He even provides the water so that the eunuch could be baptized…on a desert road.

Just as God orchestrated events in the eunuch’s life to bring him to faith, He has also worked in each one of us who have trusted in Him, orchestrating events, bringing the right person or persons at the right time to share with us the life-giving message of salvation in Jesus. If you haven’t trusted in Jesus, this is one of those orchestrating events. It’s no accident or coincidence that you are reading this blog post…

And if you have trusted in Jesus, God wants to use you to impact the lives of those around you for the kingdom. Are you ready? Do you believe that the gospel is good news? That’s foundational. We have to believe that the gospel really is good news. If that’s true for you, have you taken the time to write down your story? Start there. Then ask God for opportunities to share your faith. But be warned…if you ask, He will give them to you. You don’t have to force it…you just have to be sensitive to what God is doing in the moment, and then be courageous in sharing your story.

I’ve had the opportunity to share the gospel in large settings and one-on-one. Both are awesome, but I can tell you that the one-on-one settings are more challenging, yet more rewarding in a lot of ways. One-on-one I still get scared and have to pray for boldness…even as a pastor…but I’ve found that when I’m obedient and just say “yes” in the moment, that God is faithful to give me courage, and it ends up being an easy conversation…I don’t even feel like I have to drive. I’m just along for the ride. Sometimes when I’m talking to folks it’s a “no” when it comes to Jesus, sometimes I’ve found out later my conversation was one along the way that led to their trusting in Jesus, and sometimes I’ve gotten the awesome privilege of seeing someone trust in Jesus. My job is simply to be obedient.

How about you? Are you ready? Are you available? Will you be obedient?

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