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Entertained And Misaligned

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

What do you most like to watch, listen to, or read? Does it fit with your being a sincere Christian?

Christians need to be intentional with the entertainment choices that we make. Streaming shows, books, movies, and social media videos that promote ungodly attitudes and sinful behaviors aren’t the kind of things that ought to characterize our habits. The things that we fill our minds and hearts with—the stories and thoughts to which we ascent—have a profound impact on us. Likable characters warm us up to their way of life, which is really problematic when that way of life is ungodly.

So let’s ask ourselves: Are we choosing to be entertained by senseless or careless violence? Is the loss of human life downplayed in our favorite stories, as though it were unimportant? Are we being led to laugh off certain sins? Is foul, sinful, cursing language used as though it were harmless? Are the things that we find entertaining attempting to make it unclear whether someone doing evil is a good guy or a bad guy, eroding our discernment about what’s right and wrong? Is sexuality portrayed in unholy ways that go beyond the proper love of husband and wife? Are things which God has declared sinful being portrayed as happy, freeing, pleasant, and good?

I recently heard a preacher note that when we allow ourselves to be entertained by something, we’re aligning our hearts with that thing, if only a little bit. There’s a small amount of conforming with its ideals that happens. And thinking about the danger of that reminded me of these words from Proverbs: “My son, if sinners entice you... my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths…” (Prv. 1:10-16) It’s a good reminder not to align ourselves with the world and their ways. Like the Spirit said through Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rm. 12:1)

The reality of living in a fallen world means that we won’t be able to put a full stop to the immorality that we see and hear about. The day-to-day world is full of it, and it finds its way into our lives in so many ways. But there’s a big difference between seeing immorality and seeking it. There’s a big difference between hearing of sins committed and honoring them as entertaining. There’s a big difference between knowing that sin is sinful and wondering if it’s sensible. The problem is not only what we see; it’s what we choose. Let’s make sure that we’re honestly trying to glorify God in everything that we do.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Active, Living Faith

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.” (Js. 2:18)

What are some things that you do that are specifically motivated by your belief that Jesus is the crucified and risen Son of God?

  • Does that affect how much you give to those who are in need?
  • Does it cause you to go visit fellow Christians who are sick or lonely?
  • Does it make you hold your tongue from gossip, slander, or lashing out in anger?
  • Does it motivate you to love your spouse exclusively and permanently?
  • Does it drive you to dress in a modest, God-glorifying way?
  • Does it make you responsible with your money: avoiding debt, giving to others, and choosing not to be greedy?
  • Does it drive you to pray about life rather than complain about it?
  • Does it keep you calm when anxiety would threaten to rule your thoughts and feelings?
  • Does it help you see each person’s value with no partiality?
  • Does it cause you to speak about Christ—to tell others what you believe and that they should believe in him too?

James said that if we have faith but that faith doesn’t act, then it’s useless. So let’s have authentic faith, brothers and sisters. Let’s be defined by what we believe and what we do in service to God. Let’s be sure that we are doing the good works God made us for, because that’s how we’ll know that our faith is the real thing.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” (Js. 2:26)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Me & The Screen | Parenting with Screens

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Many Christians have a pessimistic outlook on raising kids. We believe it’s a risk, saying things like, “We shouldn’t want to bring kids into a world that’s gotten this bad. It’s worse than it’s ever been. It would just eat them alive, destroying their faith.” But the world has always been evil. I doubt that “the world is worse for our kids than it’s ever been.” Perhaps, though, the world’s wickedness comes closer to them, thanks, at least in part, to the presence of smart devices.

One of the unique challenges of Christian parenting in our day is handling screens wisely in our families. So, here’s some advice to Christian parents for helping our kids serve Christ when surrounded by screens.

  • Regulate their time on screens. Encourage intentional, tangible activities like conversation, engagement, reading, work, and generosity. Set a whole-family ‘fast’ from your tech once in awhile.
  • Set parental blocks. Gateways on your wifi routers, blocked-out apps, time limits, etc.
  • Unapologetically invade their privacy for the sake of spiritual accountability. There isn’t anything unbiblical about doing that, so long as it’s truly for their good and not justification for us to be on a power trip. Check their browsing histories, texts sent and received, downloads, and apps. Let them know from the outset that this kind of accountability will be standard procedures with your family.
  • Finally, talk openly about what you’re doing as a parent and why. Caveat: be wise enough with in those conversations not to accidentally tell them how to find ungodliness (a mistake that I’ve heard preachers and parents make more than once), but for older kids, do let them know the purpose behind your decisions. Remind them that you’re trying to foster a true, abiding love for God in their hearts.

Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Mt. 6:22-23) Parents, let’s be wise and diligent to keep our families’ hearts full of God’s light.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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[images sourced from Storyset.com]

Faithful Reading: Love & Respect

Sunday, January 28, 2024

One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to 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 listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.

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Love & Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs, is about godly marriage. Specifically, it’s about following God’s plan for marriage as laid out in one short passage from the book of Ephesians. The Holy Spirit’s point runs from Ephesians 5:22 thru verse 33, but verse 33 is the summary of the whole thought: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Eggerichs notes how the Beatles sang, “All you need is love,” and so many books on marriage agree with them. And yet, there is more than love in God’s plan for healthy marriages: there is love and respect in Ephesians 5.

The author, speaking out of years’ worth of experience as a professional marriage counselor, helpfully describes what he calls …The Crazy Cycle. Simply: “Without love, she reacts with out respect. And without respect, he reacts without love.” And going thru this cycle makes both spouses frustrated. This simple articulation probably rings bells in many of our minds—that we have each sometimes felt the lack of these important things from our spouses, and we know that we have often denied our spouses what they truly need from us.

The book is like a long sermon based on a single Bible phrase, and it’s filled with elaboration on this simple concept. Some helpful pieces of advice from the book are as follows:

  • “You can be right but still wrong, when you say it at the top of your voice.”
  • “The Greek word Paul uses for love in this verse is agape, meaning unconditional love. And the wording of the rest of the passage strongly suggests that the husband should receive unconditional respect.”
  • “Often, we focus on our own needs and simply overlook the needs of the other person.”
  • “The more I meditated on these two passages of Scripture, the more I realized that if a husband is commanded to agape-love his wife, then she truly needs love. In fact, she needs it just as she needs air to breathe.”
  • “[As a marriage counselor,] Sarah asked this wife a question that she asks many women who arrive at our conferences full of contempt for their husbands: ‘What if your son grew up and married someone like you?’ The woman’s mouth fell open.”
  • “A husband is to obey the command to love even if his wife does not obey the command to respect, and a wife is to obey the command to respect even if the husband does not obey the command to love.”

If you and your spouse are struggling to find peace and enjoyment in your relationship, and if you’re ready to work together to change that and make your relationship into the kind that God intended, this book is a really good place to start.

-Dan Lankford, minister

Me & The Screen | Taking Responsibility For Ourselves

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Screen devices are amoral things. They aren’t good or bad of themselves; they are tools that can be wielded in good ways or bad. And that means that responsibility falls on us. How can we be smart and spiritual about what we see and hear with them?

First, let’s just occasionally look away from screens and engage with the people most immediately in front of us. Sometimes, we simply use them too much, and we need to learn to ignore them in favor of a meaningful personal connection. With family and friends, at work or in worship, and especially when doing personal devotions, refusing to let a screen interfere will help us focus on the moment’s purpose.

Second, let’s learn to control what we see. Last week’s post talked about ‘the algorithms’ populating our screens with things we don’t want there. But there are settings that can be changed and blocking services that can be employed to stop a lot of that. So let’s be aware of the options that we have and use them. Filtering software and parental controls are widely available if we look.

More than that, let’s make ourselves accountable to regular check-ins with a more mature Christian—a place to confess a sin, talk about a temptation and the way of escape from it, or thank God together for a milestone amount of time that we’ve endured temptation.

Third, let’s just set ourselves some time limits so that we know when enough is enough. Maybe we shouldn’t put screens beside us when we go to bed. Maybe we should keep them out of arm’s reach during meal times. Maybe we should make a house rule for no ‘small screens’ after a certain time in the evening. In general, let’s build in some responsible time barriers where we’re training our minds not to need the screens.

Overall, this comes down to self-control. It’s about making sure that while the screens are lawful for us, we aren’t mastered by them (1 Cr. 6:12). So let’s pray for wisdom and strength to be self-controlled. Let’s put in the effort to protect ourselves from the foolishness and sin that threaten to creep into our lives. Whatever effort and new learning it requires of us, it will be worth it for the sake of our souls.

- Dan Lankford, minister

 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Me & The Screen | Some Things Are Just Off-Limits

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took some of God’s commands and taught his followers how to keep our hearts several steps back from breaking those commands. One of his most memorable examples of this was these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:27-28)

To lust is to wilfully look at and think about anyone other than one’s spouse with sexual desire. This is what makes pronography wrong, and it’s what warns us to be very wise and to have some serious self-control with how we use all of our internet-connected screen devices.

Lust and pornography are the most serious challenges that many face with the screens. When we take Jesus’s words seriously, we start to realize how often we are confronted by the temptations to these things. And when it comes to our devices, we often find that the things which tempt us to lust are not only available, they relentlessly badger us, showing up surprisingly even when we deliberately seek to put them away. This problem is made particularly acute by the large-scale internet usage of “the algorithm.”

“The algorithm” is the common shorthand way of describing how dozens of services from TikTok to Amazon suggest content that machine-learning believes will interest an individual. It’s based on the typical online behavior patterns of people in our same age bracket and of our same gender. And it’s based, to a large extent, on our own browsing, searching, and viewing habits. So if you watch a lot of videos on a certain topic, whether innocuous or unholy, you’ll probably find that you’re being shown more of those videos. And if you’re being shown a lot of similar or related videos, ads, or suggested sites; it may be because the algorithm’s awareness that you’ve already gone there.

This is a good reminder for us to be on guard against lustful thoughts wherever they come to us. We don’t have to be hunting across the internet for unholy content; it’s already hunting us in every channel from the most innocent social media services to the far darker corners of the web. And so we first guard our hearts, and then we’ll have the motivation to learn how to guard our devices (more on that in next Wednesday’s post).

In Matthew 5, Jesus continued his teaching with these words: “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Mt. 5:30) If our screens are opening up a way into a temptation that we simply haven’t been able to endure, then Jesus’s advice to “cut off your right hand” might best be applied to our cutting off the thing that we hold in our hand. Maybe either a fast from screens or an all-out purge of them is the best thing some of us could do for our spiritual well-being. Better that we enter into life without a smartphone than to enter into Hell with one. Is that a sacrifice? Of course. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

- Dan Lankford, minister 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Faithful Reading: Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution

Sunday, January 07, 2024

One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to 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 listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.

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Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution, written by brother Paul Earnhart, is a series of essays that reflect on The Sermon on the Mount. Brother Earnhart highlights how Jesus’ words, while they have a familiar and comfortable sound to so many, actually invite each person to behave against the grain of—which is to say, better than—whatever culture he or she lives in. Christ’s instructions show us surprising ways that Christians will transform the world; not by taking control of it through out-politicking, out-maneuvering, and out-pacing others, but by faithfully keeping our commitments, turning the other cheek when we’re wounded, and calmly trusting that God will always provide for our needs. It’s about individual transformation in each person, leading to our salvation and sanctification.

As Earnhart notes in his book’s intro, “The Sermon on the Mount is the best known, least understood, and least practiced of all the teachings of Jesus.” Other writer have noted that the ethics found here are the most difficult anywhere in reality because they require an unparalleled level of selflessness from each individual.

As an additional resource, you can also check out Bible Project Podcast on any podcast platform. They are doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount this year, which promises to be an enlightening journey through the Lord’s teachings.

Again, to quote from brother Earnhart: the teachings from The Sermon “are a composite picture of what every kingdom citizen, not just a few super-disciples, must be.” May God give each of us the humility and strength of character to fully give ourselves to Jesus’ “spiritual revolution.”

-Dan Lankford, minister

Click here to find the book on Amazon.

Me & The Screen – Your Phone's Not Inherently Bad

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Smartphones are ubiquitous now. Everyone, everywhere, seems to recognize one when they see it. Many of us have more than one. They are such a transformative piece of tech that little kids hold up their hands to pretend to talk on the phone differently than they used to (most kids now don’t do the thumb-and-pinky thing because they have no context for phones that look like that). They are around us all the time, which, as most of us realize, can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

This month, I want to talk about Christians and smartphones, and I’d like to start the series by noting some good that can come from wise usage of our devices.

They give us opportunities to authentically share God’s word thru apps like Zoom and FaceTime. They give us a view of our world’s events and people’s many needs. Countless websites provide various forms of truthful, high-quality Bible teaching. Bible reading apps abound. You can stay connected with friends and family in authentic ways through social media outlets (several of them can still be used for that).

I, for one, really like having a smartphone in my life. It helps me be better connected with others, more attentive to the world and my role in it, and more productive as a Christian leader. Of course, it’s not an unqualified good. But in the main, I find that it helps me become more of the kind of person that God would have me be.

A smartphone is like the magic mirror on the wall—it shows us what we want to see. So let’s want the things that are worthwhile to Christian eyes, ears, and hearts. Christ said, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

Preachers and parents have warned for a long time about the potential that media has to influence us for the negative. But, we can use the same technology to let our lights shine out with the ability to influence others’ minds for the positive. Let the lamp of the body shed light on some good things, and let’s use what’s in our hands to fill our own hearts with knowledge, appreciation, and love of God.

- Dan Lankford, minister

(Images sourced from storyset.com)

Faith That Grows God's Way

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Happy New Year!

As the new year begins, ponder this question: Is your faith growing in the natural and healthy way that God designed it to, or is it confined and contained in an artificial way that is preventing the growth it could experience? Here’s an example to give some clarity to the question:

The picture on the left is a Bonsai tree. It’s deliberately pruned and kept small, it exists only in a small pot, and its appearance is kept pristine at all times. It is purely decorative. It’s technically alive, and it’s technically growing. But it doesn’t grow as GOD intends it to—it’s artificially kept under control. No divinely-allowed wildness is tolerated; only what conforms to human planning and direction.

The picture on the right is its counterpart: full-size, wild-growing trees of the same species. Even though it’s so slow that it’s barely perceptible, wild trees grow continually. They grow large, they live for many years, they bear fruit, they become strong enough to withstand the weather, and the birds of the air nest in their branches. They have deep roots. They are a paragon of God’s gift of life to his creation.

Now, let’s ask ourselves: Does my faith look more like what I want it to be… or more like what God wants it to become? Does my faith look good, but I find that it’s a purely decorative addition to my life… or does it have the strength to withstand life's storms and even at times provide spiritual shelter for others? Is my faith more shaped by the opinions and preferences of others… or is it allowed to grow by God’s power and his design for it. Is my faith purposefully kept small, safe, and tame… or is radically, powerfully obedient to the ways of God in word, in deed, and in every thought and intent ?

…God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Can God Trust Me?

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Trust is the linchpin of every relationship. If it’s there and it’s strong, then the coupling of the relationship will move freely and survive most any strain. But if it’s weak or missing entirely, the relationship will be weak, will fail, or become all-out hurtful.

In his book, Trust, Henry Cloud gives the anatomy of trust. As he sees it, it’s built through five things: 1) Understanding between both parties. Does the other party in the relationship understand me, and do I understand them? If so, we can build some trust.. 2) Knowing intent. Do I believe that the other party wants to do good, even when I disagree with their vision or their methods? If so, we can build some trust. 3) Ability of both parties. Is the other party capable of what I need or want of them? If so, then we can build some trust. 4) Character. Are they a person who embodies honesty, integrity, and humility? If so, then we can build some trust. And 5) A track record. Does the other party have a track record of trustworthiness with other things? If so, then we can build some trust.

Those ideas help me to clarify why I sense varying levels of trust between myself and certain people in my life. But more than that, they make me wonder: 

Can GOD trust ME?

He has clearly given me all the reasons I could ever need to trust him. He understands me and my needs, his intents are good all the time, his being all-powerful tells me that he has all abilities, he is of pristine and holy character, and his track record of trustworthiness is as long as history itself.

But can he trust me? Does my relationship to him embody those five elements as it should? These are question that I have to reflect on and pray about today. And I hope that you will take the time to do so as well.

After Abraham had faithfully obeyed God regarding the sacrifice of his son, Isaac, God said to him, “now I know that you fear God” (Gen. 22:12). I doubt that I have the kind of relationship with God in which he could say that—that he trusts me as he knew he could trust Abraham. But that’s who I intend to be. Would you pray about that for me? And I will pray the same for all of you.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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