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

The Resurrection

Luke 24.1-12

The women have a front row seat to the miraculous events of that first Easter morning. Though all hope seemed lost…the Hero was dead…God was not finished yet. God’s the Author of this Story, and I love when God tells the story…because when God tells the story, there’s always hope. An astounding twist to the plot…the Hero is alive. Death is conquered. Sin is atoned for. The way is made available for us to return back to God. Death is swallowed up in life, despair in hope, mourning in astounding joy. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

The resurrection proves that Jesus is the Hero He claimed to be and that everything He said is true…His death satisfied God’s just punishment for sin, and He is able to raise us to new life, to give us eternal life. And as He promised, Jesus will be with us always, even unto the end of the age. So no matter how much the world may shake around us…whether it’s natural disasters or the wickedness of men…God is able to bring life out of death, hope out of despair, victory out of sure defeat.

In this life, there will be suffering. Guaranteed. Some of that suffering is due to our own bad choices, some of it to other’s bad choices, and some of it because we live in a fallen world. Every death is a tragedy because every death is a reminder of our rebellion against God…a rebellion that broke the good world He made…a rebellion that could only be atoned for by the death of His own Son, so that while physically these bodies will die, we have the hope of new bodies that won’t…we have the hope of an eternity spent with our Hero, delighting in our Triune God, in a place where there is no more pain or sorrow, no more tears or death. Perfect peace, joy and bliss…reigning with our King forever.

The question isn’t whether or not these bodies will give out…they will…we will die someday. Death is one for one. It’s an appointment we all must keep. The question is: will we be ready when that time comes? And when it comes, Jesus will either be Savior or Judge. Which will it be for you? Life is short. Death is sure. The only hope we have is in Jesus.

Do you know Jesus as Savior today? If you have not yet trusted in Him, today can be the day of salvation for you. You simply have to recognize your need to be rescued…that you are a sinner in need of repentance. You have to believe that Jesus can rescue you…that He can save you from your sin, that He died in your place. And then you have to trust Him to save you. When you do that, the Bible says that you are adopted into God’s family…you become a son or daughter of the King of the Universe, spending an eternity with Him in the kingdom.

Maybe you are a believer, but, like the women or the disciples, the circumstances of life have caused you to lose hope. You’re living as if Jesus is still in the tomb. Maybe you need to be reminded today that Jesus is alive, and He wants you to experience resurrection life…the abundant life that He saved you for. Now’s a good time to rededicate your life to following Him.

The resurrection changes everything! Jesus makes all the difference. He brings purpose and meaning, real hope and change. Eternal life that starts today and never ends.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

The Blind Man Sees

Luke 18.31-43

The disciples are blinded to the need for Jesus to suffer even though He’s warned them on numerous occasions, predicting both His death and resurrection. The blind man sees that Jesus is much more than a prophet or miracle-worker from Nazareth…He’s the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, the Son of David and promised King who brings the kingdom.

Suffering is a reality for every believer. Some suffering is the result of living in a broken world…the blind man’s physical blindness. It’s the kind of suffering that everyone who walks the planet will experience at some point and to some degree. It’s the consequences of the curse that affects all creation. But some suffering is the result of following Jesus…the crowd’s attempt to silence the blind man. That kind of suffering is unique to believers. It’s the price of our rebellion against the god of this world. What’s the blind man’s response in both cases? He cries out to the King…“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” When suffering comes, whether it’s suffering from persecution or suffering because we live in a fallen world, our response should be the same, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” It’s a cry, not only for relief in the present circumstance, but it also represents our longing for one of the days of the Son of Man…our desire for the kingdom.

The blind man is a sharp contrast to the rich ruler we talked about a few weeks back. The rich ruler appeared to have everything…wealth, independence, status, power, possessions…yet he left Jesus lacking the one thing he truly desired…the kingdom. The blind man appears to have nothing…poor, dependent, powerless, having nothing…yet he receives from Jesus not only his sight, but also the kingdom. Stuff can be a trap both for the believer and the unbeliever…a snare that blinds us to our need for Jesus. As believers, it can be subtle. At one point, we recognized our need for Jesus to rescue us. But as time passes, it’s easy to become less needy…to replace our confidence in Him with our confidence in our job or our relationships or our status or our stuff or whatever. When crisis strikes…sickness, loss, relational fallout…we are quick to call out to Him, but when things are going well, we don’t need Him so much. But we never outgrow our need for Jesus. Only He can save. Only He can truly satisfy the longing of our souls. Only He can rescue us and bring us into the kingdom. If that’s you, ask the Father to rekindle that sense of daily dependence on Him. If you have not yet trusted in Him, make today the day. Don’t be like the rich man who “had it all” as far as this world goes, but had nothing of eternal value. Recognize your need for repentance. Believe that Jesus can save you, and trust Him to do so. Then you too can “see” like the blind man.

Until next time…stay salty.

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

Suffering Before Glory

Luke 9.28-45

When we began the Luke series last fall, one of the things we talked about…what Luke wanted us to do as we read through his Gospel…is to examine the evidence so that we might be able to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”

We’ve come a long ways since then, and no doubt we still have a ways to go. Now we’ve reached a pivotal point in Luke’s story. Last week Peter rightly answered our question for us…“Who is Jesus?” He is the Christ of God. But what does that mean? The disciples thought that they knew what it meant…a Conquering King bringing in a glorious kingdom. The overthrow of Rome and Israel once again in a place of prominence on the world stage. And while Isaiah talked about a Suffering Servant and there were hints of adversity to come (Genesis 3.15), still Jewish folks living in the 1st century were expecting a fierce Warrior-Messiah like David.

While there were plenty of OT prophesies to justify their expectations, there were also personal reasons why folks would want a Conquering King…we all want to be on the winning side. Their expectations weren’t wrong, just mistimed. Jesus will come back as Conquering King. Everyone who is on His side will win with Him. But first He would be the Suffering Servant. Suffering before glory.

I think sometimes we have a similar timing problem. We like the glory part. We like the kingdom part. But we don’t like the suffering part. And if we are honest with ourselves, many times we do anything we can to avoid it. We want to follow Jesus without cost or consequence. And yet the constant testimony of Jesus and the rest of the NT is that suffering is a fundamental part of the Christian life. But 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 wins. 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 it.

Sometimes ours isn’t a timing problem, but a “Who is Jesus?” problem. We are looking for a Jesus who meets our expectations. We want Jesus to rescue us from our sins, but we don’t want Him to change us too much. We want Him to heal us or fix our marriage or solve our financial problems…we want Him to be Savior in lots of ways, but we don’t really want to listen to Him. We don’t want His words sinking into our ears. We don’t want Him to be Lord of our lives. We want Him to make much of us…we don’t want to make much of Him.

But Jesus is both Savior and Lord. He is Suffering Servant and Conquering King. He is both Lamb and Lion.

Maybe today is the day that you need to let Jesus’ words sink into your ears. Maybe today is the day that you need to see Him in all His glory as both Suffering Servant and Conquering King. Maybe today is the day that you need to recommit to following Jesus, no matter what the cost. Maybe today is the day that you need to be reminded that suffering comes before glory.

Until next time…stay salty.

“May we be willing to follow Jesus in both the good and the hard times this week.”

This post is based on a sermon from our Luke series, Live & Love Like Jesus. 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

God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…” 2 Corinthians 1:3 NASB

As we come now to the book of 2nd Corinthians, Paul addresses some of the things he previously addressed in 1st Corinthians, but also deals with a few new issues as well.

Think of 1st Corinthians as a call for believers to be unified with each other, while the focus of 2nd Corinthians is for the church in Corinth to be unified with Paul and his ministry.

In the same way, we should be unified as a church in ministry for the furtherance of the Gospel.

In 2nd Corinthians we find Paul’s thoughts on the Gospel ministry (Chapters 2-5), encouragements for holy living, (Chapters 6-7), and instructions about giving (Chapters 8-9).

One point Paul makes in our reading for today is that we can find genuine comfort in God as Paul did.

Paul knew a thing or two about suffering for the gospel, something we will cover in more detail next week, but here in 2nd Corinthians, Paul’s opponents are undermining his work in Corinth, claiming that Paul was not an Apostle – why?  Because he suffered too much!

I guess their thought was a real apostle would be spared some of the opposition Paul suffered at the hands of men.

Yet, Paul had learned the great lesson of suffering for the Gospel, his suffering highlights his dependence on Christ, as it points to Christ’s strength and not his own.

We are reminded that God comforts us so that we can comfort others.

I was reading through several passages in Matthew 5 earlier in the week – verses from Jesus’s teaching we call the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 ESV

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 ESV

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12 ESV

As Christians we share in the sufferings and comfort of others. But, we rely not on ourselves but on Him.

Paul found genuine comfort in God. We will too.

As we go through the difficult times in life, no matter what the storm or challenge we face, we find comfort in the Word of God, comfort in the prayers of those around us, and we find comfort in the examples of the saints that have gone before us.

Our God is a God of mercy and comfort, in Him we can rest.

Until next time… keep reading!

Jim