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!”

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

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.

pro rege

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

This Is Living with Your Family

1 Peter 3

Submitting to those God has placed in authority over us is never easy, but when we do so, we show our trust is in God to take care of us and see us through, come what may. In all our relationships we are to do good, and seek the good of those around us. Our good behavior will influence some to trust in Jesus. But not all. So when suffering comes from doing right, we need not fear but can rejoice because we are following the example of Jesus.

Noah obeyed God and did the right thing even though the world around him was clearly not. He showed his trust in God by continuing to do the right thing even while suffering for it. And he and his family were saved because of his faith.

Once again we see a strong call to be in or out…you are either for or against Jesus. He’s already paid the penalty for our sin so that we can have a relationship with God. Why not trust in Him today?

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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

This Is Living Out Your Faith

1 Peter 4

The way of following Jesus is difficult and treacherous, full of unexpected twists and turns, highs and lows…definitely not the easiest path through life. You’ve declared your allegiance to the true King and have become a traitor to this world. Those who once called you friend have become bitter foes. Your world has been turned upside down.

And yet it’s the best decision you could have ever made. Because now there is a real sense of purpose and meaning to your life, a direction. And you are experiencing joy you couldn’t have imagined and a peace that just doesn’t make sense, given your circumstances. You are a citizen of the kingdom with an eternal inheritance and an indestructible life. Suffering will come…but it comes to everyone…whether that suffering comes because of your faith or because you live on this planet, do right and trust God to see you through.

But what if that’s not your experience? First question is, have you trusted in Jesus? If not, today could be the day of salvation for you… If you have trusted in Jesus, have you turned fully to Him, or are you still hanging on to your old life? Many of us miss out on the fullness of life that Jesus calls us to and saved us for because we give a nod to Him but continue to pursue life the way we want to live it. If that’s you, let me invite you to make a clean break with your old way of life today…your selfish and self-centered way of living life…and turn fully to Jesus.

pro rege

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

This Is Living With a New Identity

1 Peter 2

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a new identity. We are a new, living temple…and we join the ranks of His people along with His saints of old. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. How amazing is that! That should cause us to want to show and tell others about Him. Show through a life lived well, and tell what great things He has done for us in saving us.

Jesus will mean either honor or ruin for you. He will either give you life or condemn you to death. There is no Switzerland when it comes to Jesus. No neutral zone. No sidelines. You are either for or against Him. You are either trusting in Him or rejecting Him. He will either be your King or your Judge. Why not make Him your King today? Life is short. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Your eternal destiny is at stake.

And for those of you who have trusted in Him, does the living of your life reflect that? Are you living a life above reproach or are you giving your opponents reason to question the sincerity of your faith? Are you being a good citizen…employee…son/daughter…student…player…etc? Are you trusting God in the midst of trying circumstances, or just trying to get even?

Suffering is a given in life…part of the fallen world we live in. The way we approach suffering, whatever flavor it may be…persecution, sickness, death, wayward children, a broken relationship, etc…is testimony to a watching world whether or not our faith is real and whether or not it really matters. So do what’s right and choose to trust God no matter the circumstances.

pro rege

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

This Is Living Like Jesus

1 Peter 1

Jesus changes everything! Because of His death and resurrection we have a living hope…a hope that’s alive because Jesus is alive and a hope that continues to grow and mature as we follow Him. We need not live a life of fear, though the world around us is shaking, we can have confidence knowing that the temporary things may fade, but the kingdom remains.

If you have trusted in Jesus, He has rescued you from sin and death and has given you new life. This world is no longer your home. You have a new address…the kingdom where you have an inheritance awaiting you. You are protected by God’s power in this life…doesn’t mean that you won’t have physical pain or sorrow or even death…but it does mean the eternal life you have cannot be taken away. And even the trials that come are meant to strengthen your faith and remove everything that keeps you from fully trusting God.

And because we have this living hope and unshakable salvation, we are freed up to love. To love the way God loves. To love full on. Nothing held back. A love that shares the same message of hope…the gospel…with others.

So let us live as sojourners in this world. Let us live courageous and generous lives, preoccupied with the kingdom. Let us make an impact in the lives of those around us for Jesus.

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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

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