The Beast from the Sea

Revelation 13.1-10

A terrifying beast with all the power, dominion and authority of the dragon behind him wages war with the saints and overcomes them. And he causes all the earth-dwellers, all those who have not trusted in Jesus, to worship him. Who is like the beast and who can make war with him? The King of kings and Lord of lords aka a Guy named Jesus. That’s who.

As we are going through Revelation, there are two different lenses through which we see the world: one earthly and one heavenly. On earth…seemingly total chaos with the enemy apparently winning. Waging war and overcoming. And if you are a Jesus-follower…not looking too good for you. Sure looks like you picked the wrong side.

In heaven…God is in complete control. His sovereignty is unquestioned. The enemy and his minions may roam the earth, but they are subject to God. And there’s coming a time when heaven and earth will once again be reunited…the kingdom will come and God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then all the kingdoms of this world will be judged… In the end, the saints’ victory will be manifest. Good triumphs over evil. Jesus wins.

With that in mind, what are we to do? Simple. We are to live our lives as a citizens of the eternal kingdom right now, today. To influence others by our uncompromising faith. And come what may…to faithfully persevere. Remember that suffering comes before glory. So don’t give up. Don’t give in. Jesus wins.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Revelation series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store.

Joy in God’s Proclamations

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. Pandemic. 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 benevolent rule 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 and traitors to its malevolent king. The more we look like Jesus…the more we live as citizens of His kingdom…the more at odds with this world 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’ve chosen to respond to our circumstances with joy, knowing that God will use these experiences to accomplish His work in and through us. 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.

So what difficulty are you facing right now? What trial are you going through? How might God be using it to purify and strengthen your faith in Him? What, if anything, is preventing you from choosing joy despite your circumstance?

May you experience Joy in God’s Proclamations this Christmas season.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series: Christmas at Central. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.

Hope in God’s Promises

Romans 8.18-25

In this in-between time, this already/not yet time that we live in, we eagerly await the glory to come…we hope in the promises of God. And as we do, whether in good times or in bad, we have the Spirit who not only empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body, but who is also praying for us in the midst of our waiting…our groaning and suffering. He is battling on our behalf. And He will see us through to glory.

Suffering before glory…it’s the reality of the world that we live in today. The threat of war and rumors of war abound. Fear is on the rise, and wickedness seems to reign throughout the land. Pandemic. Social unrest. Racial tensions. Riots in the streets. Illness, death of a loved one, financial hardships, broken relationships, dashed hopes, forgotten dreams… And if we are honest with ourselves, we find all kinds of other things to hope in rather than Jesus. Overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, we too quickly forget that Jesus promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. That our hope is secure with Him.

Who or what are you hoping in today? Here’s what I’ve found to be a good indicator for me of where my hope is…what’s my level of worry/fear/discontentment vs. contentment/joy/rest. You see, the more our hope rests with God, the more the fruits of the Spirit will abound. But when our hope is anywhere else…not so much.

So while we wait, we pray. We share our stories. We share the hope that we have. You see, though we groan…in our suffering, we have a hope that this world cannot offer. A hope that the Hero has already won the day and that one day we will reign with Him. A hope that we must share…we must share…with a lost a dying world.

May you experience hope in God’s promises this Christmas season.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Advent series: Christmas at Central. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the iTunes App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.

Martyrs and Terror

Revelation 6.9-17

The Lamb breaks the fifth and sixth seals. The martyrs in heaven cry out, “How long?” And the answer is not very before the catastrophic destruction of the created order begins.

The lines have been drawn. It’s becoming more and more difficult to ride the fence. The decision to give up or give in is an ever present temptation. Many will choose that route and shipwreck their faith. They may not lose their salvation, but they will lose the life that Jesus saved them for. For those who overcome, for those who hold fast their testimony, for those who don’t give up or give in, not only does the kingdom await, now they experience the fullness of joy and abundance of life that Jesus saved us for.

Like I said earlier…we aren’t in the Shire anymore. We’re on the hunt for a dragon. We are in dangerous territory, and it may well cost us our lives. But if so, our voices will be joined with the heroic tribe of martyrs who have gone before. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” – Jim Elliot

Make no mistake…God will deal with sin. Though we may not be called to give up our life, if we are following Jesus, we will in some way suffer for our faith. Maybe it’s being overlooked or left out. Or maybe it’s something worse. And sometimes it’s the suffering that living in a broken world brings that we experience even as we try to walk in obedience (loss, loneliness, sickness, death, betrayal, etc.). We too can think, “How long?” And if we are being honest, we are sometimes tempted to think that somehow God doesn’t know or doesn’t care or maybe can’t help us in our suffering. But the martyrs remind us that God does know and care about our suffering, that He is working out a bigger plan, and in His wisdom and timing He will deal with sin and make all things right. 

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus, maybe you’ve written God off, thinking how can a good God allow such evil? Make no mistake…God will deal with sin. He does not take it lightly…in fact, He takes it so seriously that He says someone will die for it. And so He sent Jesus to die on a cross…to take on the wrath of God against the sin of the world. We are mistaken if we think God doesn’t care about the suffering in this world (or that we care about it more than He does). So we have a choice…we can allow Jesus to take on God’s wrath for our sin, or we will have to take it on ourselves. Choose wisely.

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This post is based on a sermon from our Revelation series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster. You can also download our Central Christian app in the app store or google play.

Message to the Churches: Smyrna

Revelation 2.8-11

The church in Smyrna is one of the two churches that don’t receive a rebuke from Jesus. My guess is that it has to do with their suffering. You see, the church in Smyrna is under fire. Persecution is both a present and a near term reality for them. So perseverance is crucial. They can’t give up in the midst of suffering. Key to persevering is hope…it’s remembering that Jesus wins. And because Jesus wins, so do we.

Suffering for our faith is never easy. It definitely doesn’t feel like winning. It feels like losing, big time. And yet we are never more like Jesus than when we suffer for our faith. Peter says this, “…to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4.13-14).

We all want God to save us from suffering…but what if He wants to save us through suffering. Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. God didn’t save them from the fiery furnace. He walked with them in it. And He still walks with His children through the fire.

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

Victory in Jesus

Romans 8.28-39

Confidence in the right thing makes all the difference. For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our confidence is in exactly the right place. Not in ourselves or in anything that we’ve done, but in Jesus and all that He’s done on our behalf. From beginning to end, our salvation is secured.

Paul wants us to be encouraged…what God has started, even before the foundation of the world, He will bring to completion. If we have trusted in Jesus, we can be assured that one day we will reign with Him in His kingdom.

No doubt suffering will come…everyone who walks this planet has suffered, is suffering or will suffer. Guaranteed. But the difference is this…for those of us who have trusted in Jesus, our suffering is not wasted. God is using it to make us more like Jesus. And not only is our suffering not wasted, but in the midst of our suffering, we never have to doubt God’s love for us. The Spirit is constantly interceding for us (along with Jesus) and is pouring out God’s love within our hearts.

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

The Glory to Come

Romans 8.18-27

In this in-between time, this already/not yet time that we live in, we eagerly await the glory to come. And as we do, whether in good times or in bad, we have the Spirit who not only empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body, but who is also praying for us in the midst of our waiting…our groaning and suffering. He is battling on our behalf. And He will see us through to glory.

Suffering before glory…it’s the reality of the world that we live in today. It’s true for us as believers, but it’s also true for all of creation. The world as it is is not what God originally intended. It’s under the curse, waiting eagerly as are we, the revelation of God’s glory and the redemption that is to come.

So while we wait, we pray. We share our stories. We share the hope that we have. You see, though we groan…in our suffering, we have a hope that this world cannot offer. A hope that the Hero has already won the day and that one day we will reign with Him. A hope that we must share…we must share… with a lost a dying world. And while sharing that hope, we minister to those around us who are in need. We point them to Jesus.

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

The Hope of Glory

Romans 5.1-11

By believing in Jesus, we are justified…declared righteous…before God. Our debt has been paid in full. God’s wrath completely satisfied, so that we now have peace with God having been reconciled to Him. Our hope is secure. Our boasting then, is not in ourselves, but in God. We even boast in the things that bring us closer to Him like our tribulations.

Peter says this in 1 Peter 4, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4.12-13).

Suffering for the faith, part of the category Paul calls tribulations, is a predictable outcome when you choose to follow Jesus. I love that Peter says, “Don’t be surprised.” Why might he say that? Because I think that often we are surprised when tribulation comes. That somehow it catches us off guard. We forget that we are swimming against the current…living in hostile territory…behind enemy lines. That this world is not our home. And we find ourselves reacting…and often negatively…to our circumstances. Instead of seeing tribulation as a tool that God is using to strengthen and purify my faith…to make me more like Jesus and bring me closer to Him, I mostly see it, at best, as an annoyance and, at worst, some kind of proof that God is against me.

But what if we looked at our tribulations as reasons for exulting…for boasting? What if we saw them as opportunities to grow closer to God? To learn perseverance and deepen our character? What if we saw this time of quarantine as a reason to rejoice? What if we began to look at what God is doing in the midst of it? How He’s purifying and strengthening our faith? How He’s deepening our character? How He’s making us more like Jesus?

Tribulations can fortify the hope that we have if we will let them. If in the midst of them we run to God instead of away from Him. It’s then that we experience more and more His love overflowing in our hearts. If we will run to Him. If we will trust that He desires our good. Look at all He did to be reconciled to us when we were His enemies. How much more will He do now that we are His heirs…His sons and daughters?

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

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 for God

1 Peter 5

It’s not lost on me that a sermon series called This Is Living with a strong emphasis on suffering and submission to authority may seem a bit ironic. Definitely not what the world would define as living. But maybe that’s the point.

The world defines living as more…more money, more stuff, more followers, more fame, more, more, more. The more I have, the more I matter. And the more I matter, the more you have to listen/follow/acknowledge/do what I say. Living is about me and the kingdom I’m building right now. No matter how temporary. No matter the consequence. Suffering? Yeah, that’s a part of life…but something to be avoided at all costs. I do what I want, when I want, how I want, with whomever I want. Independent thinking and challenging authority are all part of the gig. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14.12).

Jesus told this parable in Luke 12, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12.16-21).

Living according to this world’s standards only brings dissatisfaction, jealousy, anger, bitterness, greed, pride…and the list goes on and on. It fails to provide true purpose and meaning…anything that is lasting. The best you get are brief glimpses, distorted images, broken promises of life. And when this fleeting life is over…an eternity of regret.

True living is pursuing Jesus no matter what. We have been purchased for a price…His own shed blood. Redeemed from sin and death to be a people. To be His people. To proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. True living is found in trusting the One who created and called and saved us. Believing not only that He loves us, but that He is also working for our good. Our hope is not in the authorities God has placed over us. Our trust is not in them. It’s in our great God. If He is for us, who can stand against us?

When we trust God fully, we can submit humbly to those in authority over us. When we trust God fully, we can do the right thing even when it results in suffering. When we trust God fully, we need not fear the enemy. We can stand firm knowing that we have a living hope, an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life.

So let us trust God, pursue peace and do the right thing, no matter what. Let us proclaim His excellencies through lives well lived and by telling our stories to a world desperate for hope.

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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