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Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
It's a phrase that is used regularly in the world of social media marketing. The goal for businesses and brands is not just to inform their social media followers or just to entertain them; the goal is to "engage" them. What does that mean? It means that they want their followers to do something with their posts: respond with comments or re-share the content. Why does that matter? In the words of one marketing blog: "Because social media engagement builds customer-brand relationships... and increases word-of-mouth advocacy, which is a much more potent conversion tool than advertising." Essentially, "generating engagement" is a stepping stone toward a business's most meaningful moment: where the customer buys something.
Can you see how some of that same thought process could apply to how we interact with the people of the world? Obviously, our goals are more lofty than a simple business transaction: We're trying to persuade people to intwine their lives with Jesus. So how do we do that? By "generating engagement" with us that in turn turns their hearts to focus on Jesus himself.
Do you remember Jesus' two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount for how his people ought to interact with the world? He said, "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." (Mt. 5:13-14). In order for salt and light to effect their potential benefits, they must be in contact with something. Light is useless if it isn't seen, and salt has no effect if isn't applied. The idea is that both have to be used, and the lesson that Jesus teaches us there is about how we face the world: We engage with it. We do not isolate from them and shout judgment from a safe distance; we make contact and draw them alongside us so that we can move toward Jesus together.
Engagement is the kind of relationship with people in the world that brings them close to Jesus and makes them interested in learning more from him. We are like the social media account of a big company: Our aim is to generate engagement with Christ, his word, and his church. We want to engage with the people around us in a way that they are inclined to return again and again to learn more about what makes us tick, which will, of course, lead them to know Jesus better if we are living the way that we should be.
So, let's do our best to talk about Christ in ways that draw others toward him. Let's be the kind of people whose actions and words show the kind of character that they want more of in their lives. Let's know and be known, so that others may actually see us as the light of the world and give glory to God. Let's generate engagement as we represent Christ; drawing more and more people toward him every day.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Living for Jesus requires a constant pursuit of greater spiritual maturity. It’s a prospect that can be simultaneously encouraging and daunting to think about. It’s daunting to think that even with a lifetime of growth, we will never achieve perfect spiritual maturity. But it’s also encouraging to know that we will always have a goal toward which we can press forward. Even the apostle Paul said: “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. Let those of us who are mature think this way...” (Phil. 3:13-15)
So how do we keep attaining spiritual growth? Many answers could be given, but the four-step process listed below is an exceedingly simple method whose effectiveness has been proven again and again:
- READ — Read the Bible. Read faithful books about God’s things. Read righteous blogs, articles, and essays. Fill your mind with God’s things.
- THINK — Ponder what you read from God’s word. Consider its teachings about God, its literary value, and its practical significance for your life.
- PRAY — Pray for God’s power to work through you as you seek to live a more faithful life as one of Jesus’ followers. Depend on his power.
- DO — Remember James’ warning: “Do not only hear God’s word, do what it says” (Jas. 1:22, paraphrased). Get busy living out what you have learned and prayed about.
By God’s grace, we each have unknown potential as a Christian. Let us continually strain forward to the greater spiritual maturity that lies ahead.
- Dan Lankford, minister
(originally published at www.eastlandchristians.org, Mar. 2020)
Christians understand that fatherhood permeates the whole fabric of reality because our Father is the Creator. And Christian dads need to understand our immense responsibility to teach our children about our Father in Heaven.
A few years back, I stumbled across a clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan about his regular use of "dad humor" in his shows. As the two bantered back and forth in ridicule of the whole concept of fatherhood, Colbert ironically and tragically said, "A father’s job is to be distant, authoritative, and never quite pleased. That way the children can eventually understand God.”
I cringe every time I think about that. Because in that joke, Colbert is right on something that’s really important about fatherhood: it is meant to give children an understanding of God. But he could not be more wrong about the nature the God whom we want our kids to know.
My fellow dads, it's our job to demonstrate God's own nature to our kids. It's our job to show them a father figure who is righteous, who is caring and merciful, who is stern when righteousness necessitates it, who speaks often of how much he loves his children, who is selfless and puts others' best interests first, who is self-controlled, who gives good gifts to his children, who listens well and responds to help his children, whose anger is righteous and self-controlled, and who disciplines his children out of his immense love for them. It's a tall order to set a lifelong example of God's nature, and if we have the proper humility, it makes us wonder if we're up to the task. So here are four guidelines to help all of us:
- We need to be present with our children like God is with his people (cf. Ezk. 37:24-28, John 1:14, Rev. 21:3-4). Be present at home, at games, through heartbreaks and hard choices. Be present and attentive to their lives and their spirits.
- We need to regularly talk to our children and listen to them like God talks to us through the word and listens to us when we pray (cf. Heb. 1:1-2, 1 Jhn 5:14-15).
- We need to be joyful and grateful to have our children in our lives, like God, who speaks often of the joy that his children bring him (cf. 1 Jhn 3:1, Zph. 3:17). Play with your kids, do the things that they love, mark their life milestones with joy.
- We need to disciple our children—always teaching each one of them how to love God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Whether we like it or not, dads, we'll always be laying the groundwork for our kids' view of God the Father. The only question is whether we're giving them an accurate picture of him or not. I pray for all of us, brothers. It's a big job, but with God, all things are possible.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
It's not a complicated question, but there could hardly be a more important one than this: Do you love Jesus? And if your answer is yes, here's a follow-up question: Does your behavior show that?
Sometimes, the thought plays a bit like a worn-out record, but there is infinite value in honestly taking stock of our lives and asking, "Do I practice what I preach?" Does my behavior match the faith to which I give assent on Sundays?
Allow me to give two pieces of advice:
1) Ask and answer specific questions that would highlight sin in a given area of your life. Take an honest look at whether you keep God's commandments regarding your money, your choices of entertainment, your marriage and family, your words, your free time, your social media behavior, your work ethic, your hobbies, your sex life, and your friendships. And then, if you discover that something is amiss, confess the sin to God in prayer and change your habits.
2) Think about how to live your life with total consistency. How can you be recognizable as the same person at work and at school, at church and at home? Does your character remain unchanged as you move from each realm of life to another? Ask and answer: how can I be consistently Christian in every area of my life?
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." That plainspoken truth must govern every day and every area of our lives.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Infinite. Free from limitations imposed by outside forces. All-powerful. Sovereign controller of destiny. Not threatened by any changes or shifts. All-knowing. Eternal, and therefore free of the confines of time and from its persistent aging effects. Able to know the future with certainty. Wise enough to create, and therefore to define, reality itself on one's own terms. Fully present in multiple, nay, all places at once. Intensely focused on one thing, and simultaneously never blind to anything else. Infinite.
That is a list of things which humans are not. We are finite, and our finitude manifests itself in many ways that are categorical opposites of the traits listed above. We are confined to time, outside forces do limit what we want to do, and we didn't create reality, so we are not able to define all of it. There are just so many things which we are unable to control. And even at our best, we don't always know the best way for a situation to turn out. Our limitations ought to keep us humble and make us realize how much we need the help of someone greater than us.
This makes it imperative that we choose to trust God. In situations where our limitations make us unable to do what is best, we must trust the will and the ways of someone who is un-limited. The prophet Isaiah spoke for God, who said of himself, "...my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). He possesses all the capacities that we do not to make promises come true and to know what is the right course in every circumstance.
This is why we pray. We acknowledge that he controls what we do not, and so we humbly hand over our anxieties and cares to let him control them as he knows best.
This is why we live by his moral instructions. We acknowledge that while we might have our ideas of what is the best course of action, he actually knows.
This is why we hope. We acknowledge that we are unable to save ourselves; that since we are confined to time, eternity is always out of our grasp when we go for it alone.
There may no thought that is more foundational than our beliefs about God himself. If our convictions are to be right, if our morals are to be righteous, and if our evangelism is to be truthful, then it depends on our beliefs about God being Biblically informed. It all depends upon who he is and what we know of him.
Infinite. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-present.
We aren't. But he is.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Rev. 21:3)
The greatest loss when Adam & Eve sinned was not a paradise garden, but the closeness with God which was forsaken. From then on, the purpose of God's plan from Eden to eternity comes down to one thing: he wants to bring humanity home to himself. All of his promises, his power, and his work through the apostles and prophets are an effort to bring us close and enfold us in his presence.
Doesn't that sound wonderful? Doesn't it sound like exactly what everyone in the world would want?
And yet, the story of the Bible is a repeated reminder that none of us want it enough. Our selfish choices and especially our willful sins show that we—the whole of humanity—do not, in fact, want God's presence most of all.
But in our better moments, we, as individuals, do understand what we are often incapable of wanting. So what is the solution? How is that God could promise at the end of Revelation that the dwelling place of God would again be with men? It is because of what he has done to make it possible. It is by his grace that anyone can have hope of being in an Eden-like paradise again.
Salvation belongs to our God. And so we dare not boast of anything we have done as though we have brought about our own salvation. And our hearts ought to be in a constant state of pouring out gratitude to God that he has set up his tent among us and has made us his own people. In eternity, he will dwell with us and we shall be his people. Let's be grateful for that reality; even the not-yet-perfected version of it in which we now live.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Today (Sept. 11, 2022) is our last Sunday with Jared Hagan as the preacher at Northside. After 25 years, it's time for Bonnie and him to move on to another work, and we hate to see them go. The following is a letter to them from the front page of our bulletin, expressing our love, our appreciation, and our prayers for them as they go forward.
First, some Spirit-spoken reminders for how all Christians ought to view those like Jared and Bonnie who have served and taught us:
"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work." (1 Thess. 5:12-13)
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb. 13:7)
To our brother and sister: We want you to know that we see the faithfulness that you have shown. We see your work, your loyalty, and your integrity. And we thank God for you.
"God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." (Heb. 6:10)
"We give thanks to God always for you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 1:2-3)
And now, as the time has come to say goodbye, we pray God's richest blessings on you in every path that you walk from now until eternity. We pray that your characteristically humble way, you will continue to serve God and others with grace and peace. We pray that you will trust in his will, be a blessing to his people, and share his good news. And we pray that he will shine his light upon you and hold you in the palm of his hand.
"[We] pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul." (3 John 1:2)
"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." (Num. 6:24-26)
You are so appreciated in this place. God bless you both.
Northside Church of Christ
“Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt. 13:52, NIV)
Those words, spoken by the Lord himself, create a metaphor for an ideal way to teach God's law. The house is God's word, and we who teach (kids' Bible classes, adult Bible classes, sermons, or just conversations w/ outsiders) are the ones who bring out the great treasures found in it. Our job is not to invent new spiritual principles and practices out of whole cloth, but to mine the treasures which are already present in God's spoken word. Our task is simple: insight, not invention.
The metaphor also helps us to see which parts of the word are good for teaching: the old and the new. Now, remember that when Jesus spoke these words, God was actively revealing truth in new ways, so there was old truth, known well by the Jews, and new principles that Jesus' disciples could know and teach. We know that God is not continuing to reveal new truth today, and so our job is to continue to teach what was old and new to Jesus' time. Put in the simplest terms: Our job is to bring the treasures of truth out of the New Testament and the Old.
And so I hope that you are a disciple who truly values and enjoys the word of God. I also hope that all of us can appreciate that he has filled the house with treasure. It's the job of the teacher to bring out the treasures and show them to others, but it's a privilege for all who can read the word to seek out those treasures that can so thoroughly enrich our lives.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"The Power of And." It's the simple reminder that while life often seems to present us with two opposing choices, we often have the ability to pursue both if we will give the requisite thought to doing it well. In manufacturing, companies think that they must choose whether to produce a quality product or to produce it quickly. In fitness, we are sometimes told that we have to choose whether to develop endurance or strength. In life and family, we think we have to choose whether to excel at work or excel as parents & spouses. But in all of those cases, there is a way to embrace both good things, as long as we use godly wisdom in trying to do them both well. It's the power of and; not the tyranny of or.
This simple principle should be applied to how we think about church. I find that many elders and preachers are more naturally inclined to thinking about the church in terms of its group behavior or in terms of the individual members who make it up. And while there's nothing wrong with those natural inclinations, we need to be aware of them so that we can deliberately open our eyes both aspects of church life. Because every congregation is individuals and a group.
This means that our group activities matter, and so they should be overseen by the leaders and engaged by the members. Worship assemblies, Bible classes, home devos, VBS and other special events, singing, worship leader training, and preaching... Church leaders should be eminently aware of how these things are going and how we are using them 1) to best glorify God, and 2) to maximize the spiritual benefit to the congregation.
It means that the individuals in a church matter. There is simply not enough religious activity to make up for a deficit of visiting orphans and widows. The extroverts need church fellowship, and the extroverts need church fellowship. Senior saints need to be visited and encouraged, and young folks need to be mentored and encouraged. Parents need someone to check on their parenting and their marriages. New Christians need well-guided Bible study. Engaged couples need Christian marital counseling. People with doubts need someone to shine the light on Scripture to answer those doubts. The socially awkward people in a congregation need friends, and the cool people in the congregation need friends. The rich and the poor both need reminders that Christ is our true treasure. And church leaders should be eminently aware of how all of those people's spiritual needs are being met.
Whether you are a leader in one of God's churches by position or simply by influence, don't pigeonhole your thinking into an emphasis on one or the other of these ideas. We should pay attention to the individuals in our church and to our group efforts. We serve God with both, and so we should serve him well with both.
- Dan Lankford, minister
A panorama is one of my favorite pictures to take with my smartphone. They admittedly present challenges (it's tough to move your hands steadily while taking it, they don't go easily on Instagram, etc.), but I like them because they can give a more complete sense of the reality that I was seeing in the moment. A mountainous coastline, a wide-open plain, a tall building, a big group of people; they can all be seen more completely, which makes them all the more impressive, when the picture takes in a wider view.
As Christians, we ought to do our best to develop a panoramic view of God's will as revealed in the Bible. In Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul told a group of elders that when he had been with them and their church, he "did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." Does that mean that he covered every single phrase of the Old Testament and all the things that the New Covenant teachings that the Spirit was revealing through him? Not likely. He was only with them for about 2 years. However, he covered such a breadth of God's will that by the time he left them, he could confidently say he had given them everything that they truly needed to know.
Christians, in the broadest sense of the term, have a habit of pigeonholing ourselves into particular parts of the Bible to the neglect of others. We follow our natural inclinations either toward the New Testament or the Old, the harsh truths or the happy promises, the narratives or the teachings. What we need is a balanced diet of all of it. What we need is a panoramic view of God's will that takes it all in and sees individual elements in the context of the whole.
A preacher whom I really like is wont to say, "It takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian," and I think he's right about that. Can a person be a Christian without an under-standing of Paul's deep theology in Romans? Yes. Can a person be a Christian if he struggles with moral questions in Judges or if she comes up short in her memory of some of the Torah's laws? Yes. I believe that the Philippian prison warden was truly saved on the night of his baptism, despite the fact that he likely knew very little about the Bible (see Acts 16:25-34). But is that where we should stop? Should Christians who know very little about God's will be satisfied to stop learning? By no means! If we want to become whole as Christians, then we must continually work on understanding the whole counsel of God.
No matter where you are in your knowledge of the things of God, keep growing. Keep reading and meditating on his word, ask questions to those who know, and pray for under-standing. May God give us open eyes to panorama of his word. May he draw us in more and more to comprehend the greatness of his love. May he help us to see the whole picture.
- Dan Lankford, minister