Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Christian character

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Marriage & Sexuality, part 6: Lust

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

So far in our series of articles about marriage & sexuality, we’ve addressed the biblical sexual ethic, the need for permanence in marriage, the problem with adultery, the nature of divorce, and the righteous regulations for remarriage after a death or divorce. In this writing, we’re bringing some of the darkness of human thought into the light of God’s word. We’re talking about lust—a sin of the will which is prone to lead to other sexual sins.

By its simplest definition, the word “lust” only means desire. But in common usage and in Biblical usage, it almost always means an ungodly sexual desire. This is clearly what Jesus was talking bout in these words from the Sermon on the Mount: “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) This kind of unholy sexual desire is also what David was experiencing when he saw Bathsheba on a far rooftop and then continued the process that eventually brought them to bed together (2 Sm. 11:2-4). It’s also what the prophets had in mind when they used the word to accuse Israel of their “whoredom” with gods other than YHWH (cf. Ez. 16:36ff, 23:11-17ff, Jr. 2:24ff).

Jesus’ words, quoted above, are the clearest moral statement on the matter to be found in the Bible. Obviously, there is such a thing as temptation which arises, as one author said, “like a hiccup, unchosen and unwanted.” Christ even said in another place that, “temptations are sure to come.” (Lk. 17:1) But in Matthew 5:27-28, he is addressing unrighteous thoughts or fantasies that each person can control—those that indulge in a moment of temptation, choosing to dwell upon what our senses desire even though we know it is unrighteous. That is what Jesus means by looking at someone “...with lustful intent.” (ESV). The unchosen temptation is not inherently sinful; the knowing and willful dwelling upon our desires is. Each of us have to be honest with ourselves and with God about the difference and choose to do what’s right, rather than making excuses for our thought behavior. Especially for those of us who are married, the choice (and it is a choice) to look at or dwell on someone other than our spouse adulterates our faithfulness to him and to his perfect design for marriage. Jesus’ words about “adultery in his heart” should not be taken as an additional exemption for righteous divorce, but they should teach us the seriousness with which we should control our thoughts.

All of this obviously prohibits all Christians—married or single, male or female—from looking at pornography (whether we consider it ‘hard’ or ‘soft’), “checking out” anyone other than your spouse, or allowing our daydreams to circle around an ungodly lust. It should also caution us heavily about watching shows or movies in which characters are dressed such that viewers are provoked to “lustful intent.”

All of this is a matter of keeping our minds and hearts pure for God’s glory. Are we faithful to him in everything, including “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hb. 4:12)?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Well-Practiced Obedience

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Training had come to an end. There had been twenty-two months of it, more or less continuous. The men were as hardened physically as it was possible for human beings to be… They were disciplined, prepared to carry out orders instantly and unquestioningly.” (Stephen Ambrose, Band of Brothers, p. 60)

I know that many of my church members are accustomed to a daily workplace in which following orders is taken far more seriously (Colorado Springs has a very large contingent of military personnel), but I live and work in a world where that kind of ready obedience to orders is anything but commonplace. I regularly hear griping about laws and workplace regulations and educational requirements in conversations with my work colleagues at the restaurant where I work part-time. When I punish my sons for disobeying a parental instruction, I feel compelled to look over my shoulder in fear that a stranger will think me too harsh. And I hear news outlets glorifying rebellion against some form of authority which should rightfully be obeyed.

But then when I read my Bible, I find stories that admire the devotion of many who “followed orders” completely because they had faith in God who gave the orders. I read of people like Abraham, Gideon, Joshua, and others who simply did what they were told whether it “made sense” or not. In fact, I find it surprising to note that the Bible rarely explores the psychological processing of things like that. We tend to speculate at great length, asking, “What must he/she have thought when God asked them to do this?” But the Bible doesn’t tell us how those obedient ones wrestled with their decisions; it simply says that they did what God told them to do.

I wonder how many of us are as obedient to God as the soldiers in the quote above were to their CO’s. I wonder if we have the faith to simply read the commands of God in Scripture and obey like them: instantly and unquestioningly.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Marriage & Sexuality, part 2: Marriages That Are Permanent & Exclusive

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Bible speaks clearly about the importance of faithfulness to a marriage covenant. As long as it is within our power to do so, those of us who are married are commanded to be enduringly faithful to our spouses, as the traditional vows say, “forsaking all others.”

This is a simple truth stated by Christ himself when he said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mt. 19:6) And unfaithfulness is one thing for which God gives very strong criticism of his people during the time when they were rebuilding after Babylonian exile. In Malachi 2, he said, “the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Mal. 2:14-16) And in many of the prophets’ words, the idolatry of God’s people is held up as a parallel evil to the unfaithfulness of a spouse who forsakes their marriage vows by committing adultery (cf. Ezk. 16 and Hos. 3).

There are a few notable exceptions to the permanence of a marriage that God proclaims to be righteous, but this writing is focused on what ought to be the rule among Christians: that in attitude, in action, in word, and in prayer, we are devoted to healthy, lifelong, exclusive marriages.

This requires a high level of devotion, akin to the devotion that is called for in a life of faithfulness to God. It reminds us that marriage is a commitment of the will to the other person, regardless of how our emotions toward them may undulate over time. This requires us to protect our hearts and our marriages from flirtation with others, from lustful intent, and from all-out adultery. It requires us to be willing to repent of our own sins against a spouse and to forgive a spouse’s sins against us. It means that we should pray for God to give us all the good blessings that come from a righteous marriage. It requires that we must each make up our minds from the very beginning that we will truly “forsake all others” and cling to our spouse, putting a hand to the plow and not looking back (cf. 9:62) as God has called us to.

Again, there are a few notable exceptions in which the permanence of marriage may be undone with God’s approval, but let’s be clear that they are exceptions—not the rule. And so may God bless his people more and more with married couples who keep the vows that we make to him “until death parts us.”

- Dan Lankford, minister

Joyfully Satisfied With God

Sunday, August 13, 2023

There is a marvelous medicinal power in joy. Most medicines are distasteful; but this, which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart. [In the letter to the Philippians], there had been a little tiff between two sisters in the church at Philippi (cf. Phil. 4:2). I am glad that we do not know what the quarrel was about; I am usually thankful for ignorance on such subjects. But, as a cure for disagreements, the apostle says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” People who are very happy—especially those who are very happy in the Lord—are not apt either to give offense or to take offense. Their minds are so sweetly occupied with higher things, that they are not easily distracted by the little troubles which naturally arise among such imperfect creatures as we are. Joy in the Lord is the cure for all discord. Should it not be so? What is this joy but the concord of the soul, the accord of the heart, with the joy of heaven?

Further, brethren, notice that the apostle, after he had said, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” commanded the Philippians to be [anxious] for nothing, thus implying that joy in the Lord is one of the best preparations for the trials of this life. The cure for care is joy in the Lord. No, my brother, you will not be able to keep on with your fretfulness. No, my sister, you will not be able to weary yourself any longer with your anxieties… Then, being satisfied with your God, yea, more than satisfied, overflowing with delight in him, you will say to yourself, “Why art thou cast, down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” (Ps. 43:5)

- Charles Spurgeon, from a sermon titled "Joy, A Duty"

Marriage & Sexuality, part 1: The Biblical Sexual Ethic

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

There are some ideas within the framework of Biblical Christianity that long-time believers assume everyone among us just knows. And yet, if we aren’t deliberate about teaching the whole counsel of God (cf. Ac. 20:27), we may find that some among us simply don’t know certain Bible doctrines that we had assumed to be common knowledge. Additionally, when commonly-accepted doctrines are questioned or rejected by the world, some Christians can become convinced to go the world’s way unless we periodically make plain statements of Biblical truth.

So, in the interest making sure that the the whole counsel of God is spoken with conviction among us, consider these straightforward reminders of some basic morality of Christians’ sexual behavior.

The Bible is clear that sexual activity is right in only one relationship: a righteous marriage between a biological man and a biological woman. This is implicit in the creation story (cf. Gn. 2:24-25), and it is made explicit in the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex. 20:14) as well as many of the laws that God gave to the Hebrews after they left Egypt (cf. Lv. 18 & 20:10-21). With only a very few exceptions, these rules are restated by the Apostles in the New Testament (and good arguments can be made in favor of the unmentioned ones), with the apostles often just assuming the righteous ways in which Christians would behave in these ways (cf. 1 Cr. 5:1, Rm. 7:1-4, 1 Cr. 7:15, and other examples).

The bottom line is this: According to the Bible, sexual activity outside of a righteous marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. That means that a dating couple sleeping together before marriage is sinful. It means that homosexual activity by either gender is sinful. It means that sex with someone other than a person’s spouse is sinful. And the Lord himself added to all of that a prohibition against lustful thoughts about a person of the opposite sex, noting that such sexualized thoughts are also sinful (Mt. 5:27-28).

Does all of this really matter? Yes. A great deal. And we’ll talk in another writing about the many deep reasons why that is, but it’s one area where Christians ought to be exceedingly clear and convicted about who we are and how we are to faithfully serve God our king.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Laughing At Others' Pain

Sunday, August 06, 2023

I was in a room full of more than 200 preachers, and a general poll question was asked: “What’s the hardest thing you face as a preacher?” Answers varied: meeting Sunday’s deadlines, dealing with the people who don’t understand that we actually work, attending meetings, working with incompetent secretaries, etc.

But among them, two men confessed some rather more serious struggles. One of them said, “Marriage. My wife is a hindrance to my ministry and to the Lord’s church.” And another man said, “I work with a lot of teenagers in a really, really bad neighborhood. Many of them arrive at church after having been threatened, mugged, starved for days, or verbally abused by family and friends.”

The response to both from the event hosts was a jovial, “Woah! I think that’s above my pay grade!” Followed by a chorus of laughter from the rest of the room.

That kind of callousness was shocking then and still is to me as I think about it again. A couple of observations have stuck with me since that day. First, that if our chief concerns with the job of ministry are administrative, we should take stock of whether we are truly fulfilling the biblical mandate of ministry, because it’s about MUCH more than meeting Sunday’s deadline. Second, that when someone faces a serious struggle in their lives, Christians have a responsibility to help and encourage. When a Christian reaches out for help from the depths of a spiritually dried-up marriage, or when he or she fears daily for the lives of loved ones, he or she needs help—not for their problems to just be laughed off.

And so all Christians ought to give thought to how we will show up with compassion to those who need it most. There may be struggles that we are unable to overcome for them, but let us never dismiss those struggles. God does not ridicule or dismiss when his people suffer in doing good, and we must not allow ourselves to treat others’ pain with triviality.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Individual, Not Individualistic

Sunday, July 30, 2023

It’s been noted by psychologists at both the intellectuals’ level and the layman’s level that the modern West is defined by an extremely high level of individualism. Each person is considered sovereign over himself. “Personal rights” are considered inviolable whether they are legally protected or not. And disagreement with a principle has become synonymous with attack on a person. Some writers have cleverly defined our cultural moment as “the iWorld” in tribute to Steve Jobs’ branding of a whole line of devices like iPhone, iPad, etc.

While the manifestations of the issues are new, the problem is not. Humans’ self-centered way of thinking always presents a strong challenge to The Gospel, in which Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 16:24-25) It’s understandable why some struggle with these words from the Lord. It sounds like the Gospel would take away all individual expression from those who follow it. Is that right?

No, the Gospel does not take away all individuality. It does not make us into robotic, mindless drones all cut to the exact same pattern. Rather, it is in Christ that we find real individual freedom. And the promise of this is found even in his words quoted above: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The Gospel doesn’t take away who we are; it asks us to forfeit ourselves and to receive the gift of a whole new and better personhood—one that is made holy and right-eous by faith in Jesus Christ. We will not be individualistic any more, but we will be transformed into the individual and free and holy image of God that we were created for in the first place!

- Dan Lankford, minister

If You Love Me...

Sunday, July 23, 2023

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Those who serve others spend a lot of their time doing what others ask of them or expect of them. If a spouse has an emotional need, a servant-oriented spouse will not resent their partner’s need, but will serve them by doing what they can to meet it. If a church has spiritual needs, her servant leaders will not begrudge the members for that, but will do their best to meet said needs. If a stranger is in need, servant-minded Christians will not turn a blind eye, but will do what we can to meet those needs as a demonstration of Christ’s love. And beyond the concept of need, many acts of service are simply done to give another what they want. If we love them, we find ways to serve them and bring them joy.

But of course, all these are just smaller versions of Christians’ greater goal of serving God in the way we live our everyday lives.
That’s what he meant in the simple statement quoted above. If we love him, then we will serve him. We will never begrudge being instructed or corrected by his word; we will do what needs to be done to live rightly before him. And more than that, we will look for things that we can do to make God “well pleased” (i.e. happy) with us. 

As a father, there is one expression of my sons’ love that is exceedingly simple and yet is also quite elusive: the simple response of agreement and obedience when I ask them to do something. That simple act of willing obedience goes such a long in declaring their love for me. And it must surely be the same with God, who says to all people throughout all time in the words of his Son: “If you love, you will keep my commandments.” 

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Calculus of Humility

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The formula for all healthy, peaceful relationships is:

Everyone Gives + No One Takes+ Everyone Receives = 
Enough Blessings for Everyone

Everyone gives. That means that all parties in the relationship are altruistic. That is, they are purely thinking of how to be a blessing to others. No one worries that they themselves will be hurt, taken advantage of, or forgotten. They simply give to others.

No one takes. Nobody in the relationship is a consumer any more often than they absolutely have to be. Each party is so focused on giving (see the paragraph above) that there is little time to consider their own needs and feel slighted for unmet expectations.

Everyone receives. When kind things are done by others in the relationship, they are never rejected or downplayed. Because each party understands that taking is selfish, but receiving what another has given is actually a sign of humility. And so the key to relationship is not to give everything away and be miserable with nothing, but to perpetually give and also happily receive the good that others give.

Our natural human fear is that if we give to others all the time, there will not be enough left for ourselves. But when we learn to properly balance giving and receiving, God has promised that we will all have enough to meet our needs. Remember Abraham’s faithful words: “God will provide” (Gen. 22:8).

These principles are true of each person’s relationship with God, of our family relationships, of our work teams, and of our church family relations. If we want to have peace and God’s abundant blessings, then we must each learn to live out these mentalities as God does toward us.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Lord Has Helped Us

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Last Sunday was Mid-Year’s Day: the exact middle date of a calendar year. And while the middle of a year is accompanied by far less pomp and circumstance than New Year’s, it does present us with an opportune reminder to occasionally take stock of our spiritual state.

How has our discipleship progressed through the first half of this year? Have we grown? Have we met our goals? Have we pursued them with the effort they merit? Have we set ourselves up for future success? Or are we on a downward trend in in our discipleship?

In 1 Samuel 7, under the leadership of Samuel and the protection of God, the Israelites had begun to move toward a time of renewed faithfulness. Their progress wasn’t much yet (remember that they were coming out of the time of Judges when things were truly terrible), but every step in the right direction matters and Samuel knew that. So, after the Lord had given them a significant victory over their enemies, Samuel set up a stone to memorialize God’s grace to them. He named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help,” to remind them that, “Till now YHWH has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12)

What is your Ebenezer? What are the things that you can look to in your life that show how God has helped you to this point? Especially as you think back on the first half of this year, where can you see God’s hand at work for good in your life and the lives of those around you? What are the markers that show how far he’s brought you?

It’s good for us to always live with a general sense of God’s provision, but it’s all the better when we put in the effort to specifically notice his goodness and thank him for it. I hope that at Mid Year’s Day, you can say happily: “Till now the Lord has helped me.”

- Dan Lankford, minister

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