Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Understanding the nature of God ought to be one of a Christian’s most important goals. To that end, consider this phrase from Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” This is the only place in the Bible where the phrase “throne of grace” is used, and it shows us two complimentary sides to who he is.
The fact that God sits on a throne shows his kingship. He is sovereign. He has sole reign of all that he has created. He gets to make the rules, and not only because he demands to be in charge, but simply because he IS in charge. Simply by pointing out that he is on a throne, the Holy Spirit reminds us that God will always does and always will have supreme authority in the universe.
And the fact that God’s throne is one of grace illustrates one of the balancing aspects of his kingship. He is not just a king who demands to be respected: He is a king who deserves to be respected because of his kindness and generosity. And while, under normal circumstances, a king can only be approached by certain people with the sufficient clout or power, King YHWH approaches his people. He has descended to our level with all of his infinite blessings. He does not remain aloof from his subjects. He is graciously willing to come and be close to us.
This simple phrase reminds us that our God is the perfect ruler: a truly benevolent monarch with naught but our best interests on his heart. So when we come to worship him today, let us draw near with confidence to his throne of grace!
- Dan Lankford, minister
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.
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
Back in 1 Samuel 7, God’s people faced yet another conflict with a continual enemy: the Philistines. The Philistines ambushed them during a time of national celebration, intending to inflict huge numbers of civilian casualties. But God intervened and routed then without much of a battle, and the Israelites only had to pursue the Philistines as they retreated.
As they were chasing them, Samuel the prophet had the presence of mind to perform this seemingly small act: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer [which means ‘Stone of Help’ in Hebrew]; for he said, ‘Till now the LORD has helped us.’” (1 Sam. 7:12) That stone became significant enough to the people that they named the place after it for many years to come. But more than that, it showed the people a beautiful demonstration of gratitude. Granted, 1 Samuel 7 doesn’t reference gratitude or thankfulness directly, but Samuel’s monument is a clear demonstration of appreciation. And by the fact that he names the source of their blessings, he shows deep gratitude to God for their blessings.
The Ebenezer stone stands as a reminder for us today. It reminds us that wherever we are in our walk of faith and the transformation that has taken place in us over time, we have GOD to thank for that. The tendency to all humanity toward ingratitude is a bit like climbing a ladder, then standing on the heights and kicking the ladder away and proclaiming, “Look at how great I am for getting here by myself.” It is God who has brought us to whatever heights we’re presently at. “Till now, the Lord has helped us.” Whether each of us have overcome a great personal evil, or developed great influence and vibrant relationships in Christ, or been enabled to raise faithful children, or grown in our spiritual maturity, or been empowered to lead through great trials… thus far, the Lord has helped us.
On Wednesday night next week, we’ll gather as a congregation to return thanks to God for the many things he’s done for us. We’ll spend an hour mostly in prayer, asking him for very little, because we have so much for which we can truly and exclusively express our thanks. I truly hope that you’re planning to be there with your church family.
But more than that, I hope that you will establish an Ebenezer in your life: a commitment as solid as a rock to be thankful to God for the help that he has given you. Maybe it's a date on a calendar, a journal where you write those things, a group of people that you pray with, or just a time of solitude on Thanksgiving each year in which to pray. Whatever your method, give God thanks for helping you thus far.
- Dan Lankford, minister
|"Religion needs to be relevant. If our teaching doesn't address real life issues of today, we'll lose people and the church will die out."
|"Who cares if we're relevant? Truth is eternal and unchanging. If we teach it like it's always been taught, that's enough."
Which of those perspectives is right and which one is wrong? Would we be right to think that Biblical teaching should reflect on our current time and culture (i.e. be relevant)? Would we be right to say that God's word is unchanging and that truth cannot be adjusted by the desires of our cultural moment? The answer to both is "yes." Let me be quick to add: both of these perspectives need clarity. And yet both of them are correct in some ways.
The teachings that God gave to his people in every era of Bible history were relevant to the time and culture in which they lived. When Israel was in the wilderness, God taught them about wilderness living. When they were settled in the land, he taught them about settled living. When they were rich, fat, idolatrous, and spiritually complacent; he sent them prophets to rebuke the behavior of the cultural moment. And after the fullness of time had come, he sent the apostles out to teach Jews & Gentiles to live in harmony with each other through Christ—a very relevant message to that cultural moment.
But on the other side of that coin, what was the factor that made the teachings of each of those eras so relevant and so helpful? Was it that God continually gave new truth? Did he change the moral expectations in each new era because their understanding of human nature had evolved? Was God showing us an example of being "woke"? Was he changing his expectations of humanity based on what the majority of them believed and wanted to be true in each new era? No. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Over and over again, when God sent messengers to his people, it was to give them a right-now message about an always principle. It was to teach them how to make the eternal truth of reality relevant to their contemporary daily life.
And that ought to be our goal too. We don't have choose between what is relevant to daily life and what is eternally true, because the eternal truth of God is already relevant to right now. Our job is simply to turn the light onto those eternal principles so that we can see how they apply to today. We cannot ignore reality because we believe that truth is eternal and entirely detached from daily life. But neither can we let "relevance" be the rudder that directs our convictions.
"For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12). It is not our job to update it or bring it into conformity with modern notions. Our role is to show how its eternal nature and unchanging truth are perpetually relevant to all people in every culture.
- Dan Lankford, minister
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has made it very clear where he stands on the matter of abortion lately. He has signed over a dozen new laws in California in the last few weeks to create a place where abortion can be practiced very freely and very regularly. And while the whole problem is egregiously sinful and distasteful to Christians, this past week’s development in the story made it all the more inflammatory.
The picture you see here is of a billboard that Newsom’s office paid for—one in a whole series of billboards posted in states where abortion is restricted or illegal, inviting female residents of those states to travel to California to kill the unborn babies in their wombs. The problem particular to this billboard design is the fine print at the bottom of California's invitation to kill an unborn person: "'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.' -Mark 12:31"
In an open letter to Governor Newsom, John MacArthur, a church leader in California who is well-known across the evangelical community, responded with the following perspective on just how powerfully sinful is the conflation of those ideas and that particular misrepresentation of Scripture. He said:
"In mid-September, you [Governor Newsom] revealed to the entire nation how thoroughly rebellious against God you are when you sponsored billboards across America promoting the slaughter of children, whom He creates in the womb (Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–12). You further compounded the wickedness of that murderous campaign with a reprehensible act of gross blasphemy, quoting the very words of Jesus from Mark 12:31 as if you could somehow twist His meaning and arrogate His name in favor of butchering unborn infants. You used the name and the words of Christ to promote the credo of Molech (Leviticus 20:1–5). It would be hard to imagine a greater sacrilege.
Furthermore, you chose words from the lips of Jesus without admitting that in the same moment He gave the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). You cannot love God as He commands while aiding in the murder of His image-bearers."
MacArthur's letter continues on from there. And his words are harsh. And in this case, that is exactly what they should be. The problems with the governor's ads are myriad and serious. I'm grateful that someone publicly repudiated them and spoke so clearly to the scale of the problem. But it begs the question: What should we do when we see things like this? Here are some ideas for Biblically-minded responses:
First, don't become de-sensitized to the problem. We shouldn't act like the sky is falling (see the next paragraph), but neither should we allow the world's continual onslaught of assent to abortion to make us callous to the problem. The tide of immorality is not rising uncontrollably; God's sovereignty means that there is always hope of repentance. Don't be apathetic and think, "Well, that's just how things are going; there's nothing we can do about it." Always be willing to allow the heavy realities of sin to sink in and affect our hearts. Always remember the contrasting nature of good and evil. And always be convicted about what God has revealed in his word as right and wrong.
Second, don't give up hope. Sometimes, serious affronts to our faith and to truth can make us think that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams. It's not. God is still in control, and we can keep calm and continue to trust in him even while we fight against the tide of evil. Jesus established his church, and he promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. So we're not worried that God's plans in the world will fail. If we truly trust in him and continue to do his work in this world, then we can trust that he is continuing to work things out as he intends.
Third, let's be open and honest and convicted on the Bible's teachings about the sanctity of human life. It is God's prerogative to give life and to take it away; not ours. Christians must continue to believe that unborn life is sacred and deserves to be protected. We must continue to speak against euthanasia toward the very elderly and the terminally ill. We must continue to be the voices that advocate for God's gift of life to be respected whenever he chooses to bestow that life. It's not right for us to play god and make that choice in his stead.
Fourth, we need to maintain our concern for the souls of the people who promote such wickedness. There are some people in the world who have evil hearts and who desire simply to do evil. And yet, even some of those people can be saved by Jesus Christ. And so we pray for them. And perhaps even more so, we pray for those people who follow wickedness because they are ignorant to its true nature or have been deceived by its dishonest promises. We pray that they will have clarity and that they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord. We should pray for Governor Newsom and for all who promote the culture of death and abortion. We should pray that they see the truth and repent.
And finally, let's double-down on our pursuit of Bible knowledge and our efforts to share that knowledge with those around us. This life is filled to overflowing with opportunities to share the truth so that God's Spirit can change lives. But if we don't know the ways of God well enough to articulate them to a hostile or apathetic world with accuracy and faithfulness, then we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet (Mt. 5:13).
I believe that some day in the future, Americans at every level of society will feel a strong sense of urgency to erase the black mark of abortion from our history. But until that day comes, we need to be the voices who consistently call evil what it is and who proclaim the good news that Christ came to set us free from sin and death. May God give us strength, and may he hasten the day when evil is overthrown and he reigns in righteousness.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The devastation that hurricanes cause never fails to amaze the human race, and with good reason. These powerful storms remind us of our mortality, our fragility, and our diminutive nature in comparison with God's created world; not to mention how small we are in comparison to God himself. Hopefully, these times of large-scale destruction also cause us to ponder life's realities. They are like the "house of mourning" that Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 talks about: they show us lessons and compel us to take them to heart.
Stories always seem to emerge in the aftermath of hurricanes of people who heard the warnings and yet elected not to evacuate. Typically (although not always), they have been told multiple times that they are in the "cone of uncertainty," and they have been advised or even ordered to leave for their own safety. And yet, for whatever reasons, they remain. The possibility is present that they will face the storm, and yet, in spite of the possible bad outcomes and in spite of the warnings, they stay. And of course, there are always some stories of those who have made that choice and paid for it with their lives.
This writing is not meant to reflect on the morality of that choice; that is beyond the scope of Biblical instruction and this writer's ability. However, the varied responses to a storm do give us ample fodder to think about the varied responses to the Gospel message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).
Have we, the whole human race, been warned of the coming storm of judgment when life on Earth is over? Yes. God is clear that it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment will come (Heb. 9:27). And in contrast to the predictions of storms, it's not a possibility that each of us will endure this storm: it's guaranteed. So how do humans respond? How will people respond when we—the people of God—repeatedly proclaim the warnings about the coming judgment? Some people will respond and will follow God's plan for redemption in Christ. But some will choose to remain in their sins despite what is coming for them. And while we fear for them and pray for them to make a better choice, in the final analysis, if we have faithfully proclaimed the warnings, then it is between each one and his God as to how he weathers the storm of judgment.
And so we continue to evangelize. And we continue to pray for the souls of men to be saved by Jesus. And we continue in the knowledge that the storm of judgment will come for each of us at the end of life on Earth. Are we ready? Are we helping to save others?
- 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
“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
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
“Moreover, he said to me, 'Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD," whether they hear or refuse to hear.'” (Ezek. 3:10-11)
Ezekiel is told to do three things with the words that God speaks to him. Think about each one of them for a few moments. They serve as instructions for us too, giving guidance for all who teach God's word.
- "Receive in your heart and hear with your ears." Ezekiel, while he is called to be the preacher, is first called to be the listener. He, like all saints, was to have a mind that was clearly open to receive God's word. Those who teach others but do not absorb the word into their hearts or put it work in their lives are hypocrites. Teachers of God's ways are not meant to be merely professionals with a skillset; they should be, first and foremost, disciples. Receive the word with your own ears and in your own heart; don't let its power pass you by on the way to your hearers.
- "Say to them, 'Thus says the Lord.'" God did not intend for Ezekiel to go to the people and tell them his own perspective or plans regarding their exile in Babylon. He was called to tell them what God had said. And so it must be with preachers today: We must do our best to honestly represent God's teachings on every subject matter specifically because they are God's teachings. Our job is tell both saints and sinners, "This is what God says."
- "Whether they hear or refuse to hear." This is perhaps the toughest part of Ezekiel's commission. In his time, most of his people's hearts were callous to what God had to say, so he was rejected often. And the fact remains that there will always be those who refuse to hear when truth is preached. And yet, our job is to faithfully teach it anyway. Because we believe that the effectiveness of salvation comes from the power of God—that his way always works, even if all the world rejects it. And so it is like Paul told Timothy: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2).
The task of teaching the word of God is a serious one. Pray for Jared and for me that we are up to the task. And pray for all of God's people, that we will have more people who follow God's instructions for Ezekiel and who faithfully fulfill their teaching ministry.
- Dan Lankford, minister