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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.

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Excellence In Worship, from the Temple to the Pews

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Everything that we do for God should be done with excellence.

I have been reminded of this recently in studying about Israel's priests. God's commandments for them set a lofty precedent. The way they behaved, the way they taught the law, and particularly the way that they served in worship were all supposed to be of the highest level of moral and practical excellence. When they did not give their best, God condemned them strongly (cf. Mal. 1:6-14).

This is an easy lesson for us to learn from God's instructions for the priests: If he wanted excellence in worship from them, then he surely wants the same from us. So put thought effort into what you do in worship. If you will lead in a service, think deliberately about what job you will do, why you are doing it, and how you can do it best. Pray for God to help give you the right heart and the right abilities to glorify him. Learn from those who do things well, and imitate their skills. Above all, come with a mind set on rendering the quality of service which God deserves.

And even if you are not leading in worship, plan to give your best to God. Sing well, pray sincerely, eat his Supper with joyful gratitude, and have his word on your heart so that you can engage with it even more in Bible class. There are myriad ways that we can improve on our service to him. As he expected excellence from the priests who stood in his presence, we should serve with excellence as we stand in his presence every time we worship him.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faithful Reading for Teens: Do Hard Things

Sunday, January 29, 2023

One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within that plan more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.

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Do Hard Things, a book written by teenage believers and for teenage believers, deliberately breaks the mold of books that expect teenagers to do things that are morally wrong and to accomplish few things of consequence. In fact, that is one of its stated purposes: to energize teenagers’ own expectations for themselves, and to instill a drive within its readers that makes them yearn for maturity. It bluntly teaches teenagers that some things in life are hard, and rather than avoiding the hard things, we should move toward them and want to do them.

The authors, who were teenagers at the time of publishing, highlight five types of hard things that each person needs to own—that is, don’t wait for someone else to get you to do them; you make the decision to do things like this.

  1. Things that take you outside your comfort zone. It’s important to do things that don’t come easily or naturally. We’re often tempted to think that a feeling of fear about something means we can’t do it. But think about Moses, who believed that he had no public speaking talent, and yet God chose him to speak one of history’s greatest messages of freedom. So you too, plan to do some hard things that take you out of your comfort zone.
  2. Things that go beyond what’s expected. Don’t just finish the paper—do the research and write something great. Don’t do the bare minimum at the job—be early and be the best. Why not your best? And why not your best all the time?
  3. Things that are too big for you to do alone. Is there some good and faithful growth that you can effect in your community, your school, or your church? Maybe you can’t accomplish it by yourself, but you can be the spark that ignites a fire in others and your combined efforts will see something great done to give glory to God.
  4. Small things that don’t pay off immediately. Things like making your bed, working out, reaching out to someone who is sick, and doing the mundane, regular activities of life with excellence. They’re tough because they’re monotonous, but they’re worth doing, and they’re worth doing right. It’s the small efforts of discipline like those that make us ready for the grander and even harder things of life.
  5. Things that go against the crowd. Out of all of these, this one may be the most Bible-based idea, because Christians—and especially young Christians—are called to stand against the tide of the world and resist its influence. And it’s no secret that it’s hard to do that sometimes. So the question is: Can you do it, even when it’s really, really hard?

Overall, this book is about one thing: responsibility. The authors tell many true stories to illustrate their points and make the read enjoyable, but they never lose sight of their one main goal: to remind you to do own the responsibility of doing what’s right and good in your life, even when that means doing some really hard things.

Click here to get it in paperback, or click here to get it on Kindle.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Parenting. Let's Do It, & Do It Right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim. 1:5)

Moms and dads, by default, we will be the most influential figures in the lives of our children. That doesn't mean that they will always follow our prescribed paths for them, but it does mean that we—by divine appointment—have an outsized influence upon their thinking, their habits, their words, and their life story. And because that's true, we have a responsibility to be deliberate with that influence. The instruction to fathers and the example for mothers that are quoted above remind us of the simple truth that those who believe in Christ have a God-given commission to teach our faith to our children.

So, here are a few pieces of advice in that regard.

1) Don't abdicate your responsibility to the school, to the internet, or even to the church. They may be valuable supplements to their lives, but non of those are a substitute for godly parenting—not even good things like Bible classes or involvement with other young Christians. No matter who instructs them, you must choose to be their most present and most well-connected teacher. Guide them into a love for God's word, guide them into a commitment to excellence in all that they do, show them the importance of selflessness and humility in relationships, and instruct them in truth so that they readily recognize and repudiate falsehood.

2) We need to be aware of trends in the world. Because the world is often not shy about their desire to interrupt the influence that parents have on kids, particularly for Christians who actually hold Biblical teachings with conviction. (Here's one piece of evidence to back up that claim.) So just be aware. Listen to the educational philosophy of their schools and to new rules and policies that are put into place. Paranoia is very seldom helpful, but alertness is always good. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” (1 Pet. 5:8) So let's pay close attention and make sure that we can maintain our God-given charge to be the primary influences that they need.

Ultimately, this is about us doing our dead-level best to bring up children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. That's a project of epic proportions that God has given to us, and so we'd better be devoted and prayerful without ceasing if we're going to get it right.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faithful Reading: Diligently Seeking God

Sunday, January 22, 2023

One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within that plan more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.

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Diligently Seeking God is a daily devotional book. That is, it offers a short reading from Scripture and a one-page reflection on a spiritual topic that helps believers to turn our hearts more wholly toward the things of God. The author’s stated purpose is found right in the title of the book: It is to teach and motivate his readers to be diligent in our pursuits of knowing God himself. The top of each page is dated so that there is one reading for each calendar entry of the year, including February 29 if you want a bonus reading or during leap years.

Published just back in 2006, this book was written by Gary Henry, who is known by many among the Churches of Christ for his preaching and especially for his writing. In this book, he offers a very focused guide to how Christians can truly seek God. In contrast with many daily devotionals that cover 365 topics of general Christian interest, brother Henry’s book stays on track with just this one topic. January first’s reading shows how our God himself is “Our Deepest Need, Our Greatest Reward.” From there, each day’s reading sheds light on a different facet of the grand concept of knowing God as he should truly be known, such as: “Capacity for Joy,” “Longing for God,” “Our Verbiage When We Talk About God,” and “If We’re Hungry for Good.” They remind us over and over again that our need to know and love God is a greater pursuit even than our pursuit of good Christian behavior or right religious practices. Brother Henry’s daily writings remind us of the personal importance of the greatest command: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Mt. 22:36-38)

This book has been a go-to resource for me for writing blogs and articles and for teaching in Bible classes, teen studies, and sermons. And more than that, it has helped to raise my view to the grander realities of knowing God and being known by God. It’s helped me to see that important Bible teachings like the 5 steps of salvation are fundamentally based upon our love for and respect of God through Christ. And it—like the other books mentioned in the past two weeks’ articles—has helped me to see areas of my life where I’ve justified my actions instead of repenting of them, where I’ve been selfish, or deceived myself into calling sin virtue, or where I’ve been lukewarm about faith instead of being diligent in pursuit of God’s things.

I recommend this book for Christians from freshman year of college to the twilight years of life. It requires some maturity to think as the author would have us, and his guidance into the Scriptures will lead us to still greater maturity if we will allow it. You can buy the book by clicking here or access these daily devotionals online by clicking here, and I pray that it blesses you as it has blessed me.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Better Before Bigger

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

All of the company’s senior executives were at the board room table, and they were discussing how they could outpace the growth of a competitor. The competitor had surged into their industry and was expanding rapidly, opening multiple new locations every month and on trend to vastly out-sell them. And so the board members were intent on growing bigger before their competitor could. Until the CEO spoke up. Having sat quietly at the far end of the room for awhile, he started banging his fist on the table until he had everyone’s attention, and then he said simply, “I don’t want to hear about how to make this company bigger. I want us to talk about how to make it better. If we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.

The wisdom in that simple statement is profound, and it applies in some way to every human enterprise, whether we have customers or not. And it’s true of a church too. If we continually try to make it better, it will bet bigger. If our Bible classes offer rich insights into the Word and relevant guidance for life, people will see the value in that and come to hear it. If our group worship leads them to open their hearts individually to powerfully perceive God’s glory, they will see the value in that and come to experience it. If our preaching enlivens people’s minds and invigorates their hearts to want to serve God better, they will understand the value of that and come to hear it. If our fellowship demonstrates the power and joy of relationships, outreach, generosity, and brotherly love; they will perceive the value of that and engage with it too.

That’s why church growth is always primarily about spiritual growth. It’s about us continually getting better at what we do to serve God, and a group that does that will inevitably grow. It worked that way in the first century, and I believe that it still will today.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faithful Reading: The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, January 15, 2023

One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers & preachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within that plan more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.

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The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, is a fictional book that pulls back the curtain on the devil’s work of tempting humans, shedding light on many of the methods of temptation to which we fall prey frequently. Its teachings are portrayed via fictional letters written by a senior tempter in order to advise and mentor a younger tempter in his efforts to lead a particular human soul away from God. Each letter builds upon the ones before it and shows many of the methods of temptation that are common to man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13).

This book’s real benefit is its insights into our oft-ungodly thought processes. The author speaks about both subtle and obvious ways that we give in to selfishness, that we deceive ourselves, or that we harbor bitterness toward others… often in ways that we are unwilling or unable to see in ourselves. He talks about our temptations with pride, with impatience and unforgiving thoughts, with intemperance, with judging others, with fear, with hypocrisy, with lust, with jealousy, with idolatry, and many more besides. He helps us see our spiritual life and relationship habits more clearly so that we can live them more in line with God’s good ways. The book was first published in 1942, so some references are made to the events of World War II and how those events may be either boons or detriments to the devil’s cause. But even if its contemporary references feel dated at times, the principles of human behavior that it teaches are far-reaching, offering insights that will help anyone who lives in the modern West.

It has been my personal experience that the teachings in this book have helped me see my temptations on the rise sooner, because I can recognize wicked patterns in my own thinking or words better than I used to. I will never claim to have become a perfect Christian, but I am thankful for the wise words and the encouragement that has guided me to be better than I used to be. 

The Bible tells us that our adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Mr. Lewis’ insights into the human mind and our battle with temptation can make us more aware of the lion’s moment-by-moment presence around us and the manifest deceptions that he often uses against us to interrupt our wholehearted devotion to God. Keeping in mind that it is a fiction work, I believe that it can serve as a helpful tool to almost any saint who wishes to achieve greater purity of mind, heart, and action.

Hopefully, your motivation to seek greater discipleship in this new year has not waned in the slightest, and you’re still actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God. And it’s my prayer that this book or some other faithful one will be helpful to you in attaining that end.

- Dan Lankford, minister

 

Click here to see last Sunday's similar review of The Pilgrim's Progress.

A Checklist for Sundays

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Checklists help pilots safely run takeoffs and landings, they help wedding planners see to every detail of their events, and they help tax pros cross every t and dot every i on our returns so that we don’t have to pay any more than is absolutely necessary. They just help us to make sure that we are completely engaged with what we’re doing; ideally preventing us from missing an important component of an important activity.

So, here’s a checklist to help us with Sundays. Here are a few reminders that can help us make the most of this important part of life.

Before church time:

  • Pray. Pray for God to help us truly worship and truly learn.
  • Read. Open your mind and your Bible to hear God speak. Look ahead at Bible class materials and be ready to participate in classes (and make sure your kids do so too).
  • Give. Purpose ahead of time how much you will give to the work, remembering what it’s for: Helping needy saints and supporting the eternally important work of preaching.

At a service:

  • Introduce yourself to a new member or a guest.
  • Encourage someone who led part of the worship service.
  • Talk to a kid or a senior saint who might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Encourage an elder and/or a deacon.
  • Invite someone to share a meal with you — either at your house or out at a restaurant.
  • Look at the lobby board and find a way that you can volunteer or help.

Imagine if we all did these things every Sunday. How would our relationships with each other and our love for God be better?

Let’s find out :)

- Dan Lankford, minister. Special thanks to my wife, Kaitlin, for providing the main idea of this post.

Faithful Reading: The Pilgrim's Progress

Sunday, January 08, 2023

One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber at the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.

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The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in the year 1678, is an allegory that sheds light on the manifest highs and lows of Christian living. It follows a man whose very name is Christian as he leaves his home—“The City of Destruction”—and journeys through many places and meets many people who either help or hinder him on his way to his final destination: “The Celestial City,” situated on Mount Zion. Christian’s journey (and the later one of his wife, Christiana) mirror the paths which so many saints have walked over the last 20 centuries.

Why, you might ask, would such an old book be worth reading in today’s world? What benefit does it have for us? Here’s why:

  • First, because someone has well said, “If you want new ideas, read old books. And if you want old ideas, read new books.” Classic perspectives and teachings have often been so neglected by modern thinkers that they ring with fresh insight, though they are hundreds or even thousands of years old (see Eccl. 2:16). 
  • Second, because even if the style of writing feels older (and trust me: in The Pilgrim’s Progress, it does), human nature changes very little as generations pass, and so Bunyan’s perspective on the Christian life are evergreen—applicable to every generation. 
  • Third, because the writer speaks with the vocabulary of scripture, often putting direct quotes of holy writ into his characters’ conversations. He reminds us that our experiences as believers are common to mankind, that God helps us mightily, and that the rewards of faithfulness are inexpressibly good.

You can get modern paraphrases or read it in the original Shakespearean-era English. The book has been helpful to me in both ways as it’s given voice to my own struggles of faith and helped me to articulate encouragement to others. I recommend it for Christians from nineteen years old to ninety-nine years old as it helps us see ourselves rightly as pilgrims who travel through this barren land of earthly life, making progress toward that golden strand—our heavenly home in the presence of God. I hope you’ll read it and be blessed by it as so many others have been through the last four and a half centuries.

Follow the links to the right to get your copy and start reading today. And look for more book recommendations that will help us grow in our faith in the next few weeks’ Family Reports.

- Dan Lankford, minister

New Year's Goal: Be Content But Not Complacent

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

It's a new year, and the advice is flying. Some columns, bloggers, and TV personalities tell us, "This is the year to revolutionize your life! Time to change everything!" Others say, "Start small. Just adjust something little and don't try to do everything all at once." And still others will insist, "If you want to change something in your life, just change it no matter what time of year it is. New Year's resolutions always fail." In the flurry of advice, it can be disorienting and discouraging to determine which perspectives are worth believing and following.

Can I offer a little bit of balance to that whole thing?

First, Christians should remember that growth is a part of who we are. Until we attain perfection like Christ's, we will have room to grow. Even the apostle Paul, as he talked about Jesus' resurrection and perfection, said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:12-14) Even he recognized there was room in his life for spiritual growth.

Second, Christians are called to peace and joy and contentment; not fear and discouragement and anxiety (Phil. 4:4-7). So how do we cultivate an internal drive toward growth while not letting that outlook roil up our anxiety about goal-setting and accomplishment? Answer: We learn to be content without becoming complacent. Complacency halts growth because it convinces us that, "Everything is already fine just the way that it is." That mentality cripples our desire to grow into the maturity of Christ as we should. But it is possible to be grateful to God for the growth that he has given and also praying to him to continue to build us up.

I hope that you do have some faithful goals for how you want to grow and that you're praying for God's strength in you to accomplish those. And I hope that, no matter whose advice you follow in setting those goals, you'll follow the Spirit's advice and find contentment but not settle into complacency.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Is a thing worth more when it's given or earned?

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Not long ago, I found myself in a good-natured argument with a friend at work about whether it's more noble for respect to be given automatically when we meet someone or whether it's something that has to be earned before it's received. Here's the question that she asked next: "Is a thing worth more when it's given or when it’s earned?”

That question fascinated me from the moment that she asked it. And as I've thought about it, I think the answer is: it depends. Some things are worth more when they're earned, but many things can only be had as gifts—they simply can't be earned. And the worth of many of those things is estimably greater.

So back to the original discussion subject: Is respect worth more when it's given or when it's earned? And I think the answer in that case is that it's worth a great deal when it's given... but the earning process has the potential to make it worth even more.

But if we lift our eyes to grander concepts—things that pertain to eternal salvation—then we must acknowledge that their inestimable value is in the fact that they must always and only be gifts. Neither the grace of God nor an entry into Heaven can ever be earned by those who receive them. The same is true with God's gift of his son, Jesus: It was not because of our goodness that Christ came to earth, but because of God's good will. And so it is with the greatest gift: the gift of life itself. Nothing in all creation has ever earned life; it has always been a gift from God. Perhaps the process of earning a good life has the potential to make the gift worth even more, but it is a gift no matter how much we may devote ourselves to earning it.

Through life’s trials and struggles, we may gather many eternal treasures. But when we lay them down at the feet of our Lord, we will receive a gift from him that is far greater and inestimably more valuable than the gifts that we may give him. What we earn along the way will pale in comparison with the gift that we will receive when we have finished the course and kept the faith.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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