Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
At various times and in various places, it’s been a popular trend to rebuff the idea of doctrine or treat it as a term of art, putting it in quotes as though it’s a made-up concept. Claims are made that to emphasize doctrine is to inherently neglect a proper emphasis on Christ’s love. While of course this kind of neglect can happen (cf. the Pharisees), it is not the inherent outcome of a righteous focus on doctrine. In fact, a proper focus on doctrine will always include an emphasis on Christ’s love and sacrifice.
This can be illustrated by one sentence from Titus. Paul warned Titus that while he was Crete’s preacher, there would be many people who would cause him trouble. He called them “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers,” and said “they profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” As a response to this, Paul gave Titus one simple command: “As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
What all does that include? It includes everything from salvation by Christ’s grace to the necessary moral behavior of the people who are saved. And this is plainly outlined later in the same letter to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things.” (Titus 2:11-15)
The word keeps us grounded in Christ in every way. This is why sound doctrine is important for every church and every Christian.
- Dan Lankford, minister
This past Sunday afternoon, the Skyview Church of Christ in White House, TN held their final service. The group reached a point where membership status and the cost of the facility were incommensurate, so it was time to disband at that location. And while I know that a congregation permanently closing their doors isn’t a super unusual event, it means a lot to me because that was the first church where I served as the preacher. So their closing up has had an impact on me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. With that being the case, here’s my tribute—simple as it is—to Skyview.
60 Christians. Then 90. Then 60 again. 2 elders. 4 or 5 deacons, depending on the year. 3 and a half years. 3 VBS’s. 7 gospel meetings. Approximately 160 sermons. An unknown number of Bible classes. And one tremendous experience for me and my wife.
The Skyview church was planted in May of 2001 by Wilson Adams and a handful of other Christians. Wilson preached there for approximately five years, then Shawn Bain preached there for approximately five years, and then I came. I started working there 10 days after Kaitlin and I got married, and we were there for three and a half years, long enough to bring our first son into the world. The church members supported us so well through those early days of marriage while we adjusted to life and work together. They put up with some hilariously bad preaching mistakes. They humored many of my ideas that had no business seeing the light of day. They rebuked and corrected in a near-perfect spirit of gentleness. And they encouraged the good that they saw in me and my wife, making us far better when we left there than we had been when we arrived. I’m grateful to all of them, and tempted to mention all of their names here so that they receive some the thanks they deserve. I'm thankful, also, for Bobby Blackburn, who preached at a nearby church and took me under his wing and helped me minister to my wife and to the church in more ways than he'll ever fully realize. I’m especially grateful to John Case, Tom Reed, and Paul Porter—the elders whom I was blessed to know and work with there. They took a significant downgrade in preacher skill level when they hired me to follow Wilson and Shawn… and by doing so, they did me so much good. I can only hope that I did their spirits some good in return.
I know that there are always transitions in life. Solomon said that there is “a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1), and he went on to describe how the path of life often takes us through times of great effort, then times of the opposite effort. Derek Kidner noted how these verses teach us that, “We have to dance to a tune not of our own choosing.” Such is the case with Skyview closing up. It is “a time to pluck up what was planted… a time to break down… a time to cast away stones… and a time to lose.” And yet, as Wilson said in the final sermon preached there this past Sunday afternoon: “A church isn’t brick and mortar. It’s not a building. It’s not an address. That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is SOULS.” And so I am assured that the saints—the SOULS—who faithfully served God together at Skyview will continue to serve him wherever they worship now. The thing that stays constant while many other things change is the command to, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13), and I feel certain they will continue to live up to that divine mandate.
I think the history of a church is important. Our individuals stories, family stories, and church stories matter. A lot. I’m grateful to God that I was able to be part of the Skyview church story for those years. To all of you whom we worshiped with and who loved us then and continue to now: Thank you. And God bless you. I love you.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Next week, we’ll begin a four-day guest speaker series with Kenny Chumbley. Brother Chumbley has a special balance to his preaching that few others achieve: the ability to speak deep, thoughtful truth with clear, understandable simplicity.
There’s an inherent blessing in being able to hear the Gospel spoken by different personalities. In the same way that the different Bible writers’ methods strike chords for different readers, a guest speaker can strike different chords and bestow evergreen insights into the word upon us.
There are a handful of different approaches that people take toward guest speaker events at a church. Here they are, brought out into daylight, for us to consider which is our usual and which is the best approach for us to take to next week’s series:
- We wonder if the speaker “will be any good.” We think that the event’s purpose is to be impressed with a speaker’s ability, and so if he’s great, we consider the event a success. And if not, then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect that a single event will revive our personal feelings of excitement that we have experienced at special moments of spirituality in the past. And so if that doesn’t happen—if the very next Sunday feels like most other Sundays—then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect to learn something new that we’ve never heard before. If we do, then it we consider it a success. But if we cover familiar territory and receive well-timed, needed reminders about faithfully living for Christ… we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- If the speaker does his work with excellence and we do feel a sense of revival, we start to develop feelings of envy and a desire for more than what we believe our local church can offer us. This sense of comparison steals joy from the event and from the long-term relationships with our local church family.
- But at the end of the day, if the lessons declare the truth, speak it with clarity and reverence for God, help us live more faithfully for God, and speak with sincere love for God and his revealed word… then we’ll know that God is glorified and that our time is well spent.
Events like these should in no way be treated like an exhibition or opportunity for comparison. We should come to this like any occasion where the word of God is preached: with our hearts open wide to receive the truth as revealed by one of God’s servants.
I can’t wait to share these times of learning and worship with you!
- Dan Lankford, minister
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
In Sunday’s lesson, we talked extensively about the unity that is supposed to characterize God’s people. But it may be that some questions linger in our minds after a discussion like that: “I see the value in those relationships, but what if they let me down or hurt me in some way? What if they have hurt me when I thought I could trust them in the past? What if we’ve known each other through church for all these years and that’s never been what our relationship was like—how would I start fixing that when it’s been broken for so long?”
The answer to all of those questions is simple to understand, but it’s difficult to do:
Choose to trust.
Every human relationship comes with risk. Parents risk their children breaking their hearts. Spouses inherently risk something by committing lifelong faithfulness to each other. Even building a friendship with anybody comes with an inherent risk: the closer they are to us, the more potential they have to hurt us. And the same is true of relationships in our church family. Will someone among God’s people hurt, disappoint, or frustrate us at some point? Probably. But are we willing to risk that happening because it’s what God has called us to in Christ? I hope so.
We have to choose to give trust in relationships. Especially after our trust has been broken, we must decide to extend it again if our relationships are to be healed. When we choose to do that, we will find that it’s reciprocated—maybe imperfectly, but still honestly—more often than not.
And so we repeat the Lord’s words again: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
- Dan Lankford, minister
A recent report by the Pew Research Center, who study all sorts of trends connected to faith and religion, noted the following: “About a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 says it’s extremely or very important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults… But attitudes on this question vary by the religious affiliation of the parents. White evangelical Protestant parents are twice as likely as U.S. parents overall (70% vs. 35%) to say it’s extremely or very important that their children grow up to have religious beliefs that are similar to their own. Some 53% of Black Protestant parents also express this view.” The report continues: “Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%). Overall, parents are more likely to say it’s important that their children share their religious beliefs as adults than to say the same about their kids’ political views.”
Several things came to mind when I read the report. Here are just a few observations:
First, the data isn’t very surprising in many ways. Regardless of black or white, it’s not surprising that those who are regular church-goers care deeply about sharing their faith with their kids. If anything, it’s surprising that the percentages aren’t actually higher, because those who regularly attend Christian church services are, in the main, the ones who believe that the teachings of Christianity are truth. And if we believe that these things are true, then we necessarily must believe in the need to share them with our kids. If we believe that Jesus is the singular way, truth, and life (John 14:6), then we will want to share the good news about him with everyone and see all people come to follow him… especially those of our own household!
Second, I occasionally hear Christians say things like, “The faith isn’t hereditary. Each generation must have their own faith.” And while I understand the sentiment behind that, a report like the one from Pew should probably increase our awareness of the fact that the Bible does intend for faith to be hereditary in some sense. Yes, each person must come to a point of maturity where they take ownership of their faith, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater in saying that “Christian faith isn’t hereditary.” Because each generation is also supposed to teach the faith to the next generation. That was explicitly stated in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-9), and there are plenty of examples or allusions to the same thing happening among Christians in the New Testament (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). Our faith is supposed to be a gift from one generation to the next, and so it is “hereditary” in that sense, and we should be diligent to make it so.
Third, let’s make sure that we each establish a conviction in our hearts as to whether our religious practices are simply a matter of preference (“I believe in this religion, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like they have to believe it, and I wouldn’t want to pressure my kids into thinking they have to believe it just because I do.”), or if it’s a matter of conviction (“I believe that Christianity’s teachings are the will of God that he spoke thru his servants and that he verified by raising Jesus from the dead. They aren’t just ‘my personal beliefs…’ They are truth.”). Our kids will know the difference when they see it work its way out in our lives. And more than that, the Lord will know the difference, because he knows what’s in our hearts.
I hope these ideas are helpful in your thinking as a supplement to Sunday’s sermon about parenting, and I hope that in our individual hearts and in our families, all of us are growing more and more into the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
- Dan Lankford, minister
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-13)
In the church, who is supposed to do the work of teaching children, caring for older saints, counseling young married couples, praying with sick people, evangelizing our community, showing hospitality, giving to the poor, helping new saints arrive & get settled and feel welcome among us, taking food to those who are grieving, and many other related activities? Is it the preacher? The preacher’s wife? The elders? Their wives? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be doing the work of ministry?
The passage quoted above makes it clear that all Christians are meant to do these works of ministering to others. Obviously, that includes preachers and their wives, elders and their wives… but it includes them simply because they are Christians and ministry is all Christians’ work.
A capable and passionate group of church leaders can accomplish a lot. But a passionate church can accomplish so much more together, and that’s what the Spirit would have us to be. We should all be doing the work of ministry—caring for each other, guiding others to closer fellowship with Christ, and reaching out. Ministry isn’t just what happens in the church building or in our assemblies, so look for opportunities where you can serve as a Christian this week.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, they potentially present even greater challenges among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed anonymity; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the second of the three signs.
Irrelevance causes a person to feel that they have little or nothing to contribute. It often happens within a congregation when Christians compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes: those who speak, teach, or lead in a public way. Those comparisons—which, unfortunately, are often subconsciously reinforced by the preaching and other voices of leadership that they hear—can make a person think that if their own talents are of a lesser degree or different nature, then they don’t matter. Because of how they hear others talk or see them behave, they may feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
Surely, all of us can understand why this problem is detrimental to a church family. It causes a perceived separation between those whom Christ has joined together. It shows partiality, whether from looking down on our spiritual siblings or from being intimated by them (cf. Jas. 2:1-9). And it shows a lack of faith in God’s promises, forgetting that he has brought us together in the body of Christ as he sees fit so that it will function at its best. If we judge, whether consciously or subconsciously, that some among us do not compare in talent or ability and are not worthy to be among us (that is, they are “irrelevant”), then we have contradicted the will of God and we need to repent.
So what can be done about it? Here are some Bible-based reminders as solutions:
- First, remember that Christ’s church is his family (cf. Eph. 2:19). In an ideal family, everyone knows they are loved and valued. Not everyone’s family experience has demonstrated that, but it’s the universally understood ideal, and that’s what we should all strive for in our congregation.
- Second, remember that believers don’t belong in the world, but we do belong among believers. We are outcasts from the world, and they’re surprised when we don’t join them in their wickedness (cf. 1 Pt. 4:4). But in Jesus’ church, people who seek him always belong. Differing levels of talent, of attractiveness, of sociability, of book smarts & street smarts, or of competency in any given area… they don’t divide us. As one of our hymns says, “No one is a stranger here. Everyone belongs.” We don’t belong in the world. The only place where we do belong is the church.
- Third, remember that great Christians are those whose names are largely unknown, but who serve God faithfully anyway. I doubt that many would list Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43) as one of the most influential figures in the Bible, but her presence among her Christian community—particularly in the lives of many widows—was powerful. In fact, when she died, an apostle came to her town and raised her from the dead! That tells me that her role in the church mattered a great deal! In the same way, I can’t imagine that any of you have heard of Bertha Baggett, Eugene Pemberton, Gus Lowe, Brenda Crowder, or a host of others who stood firm in the Lord. But I could wax eloquent about their influence in the kingdom and the “well done” that they received from their master when they went home to glory. They weren’t public figures in the church, but they were anything but irrelevant because they served God and others faithfully. Even if you think your gift is only a small thing to offer to a fellow church member, it matters. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10).
No one in a church family is irrelevant! It’s a terrible shame when Christians feel that, and so let’s all do our best to notice and appreciate each other’s natural genius—the gifts that each can offer to be a blessing in God’s kingdom. Let’s work together and be deliberate to fight agains these signs of a miserable church life.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. And while they work well as indicators of job fulfillment, the principles also serve as healthy admonitions about the quality of church relationships.
- Anonymity: A person feels that he or she is not known or cared about. Others don’t know them well, don’t ask about them often, and seldom make an effort to understand their life struggles or victories. Others often let social awkwardness or intimidation or other forms of prejudice create distance and prevent close friendships from forming. As a result, they feel like an anonymous presence—not well-known or well-cared-for by their fellow Christians.
- Irrelevance: A person feels that they have little or nothing to contribute. Within the church, they compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes and determine that if their own talents are lesser, then they don’t matter. Because of the way that they hear others talk or see them behave, they come to to feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
- Immeasurement: Basically, this comes down to a lack of growth or even the opportunity for growth. It happens at work when there are no measurable skills or trackable achievements to indicate success. It happens at church when there is a prevailing belief is people just are who they are and little (or nothing at all) is done to help them grow. People feel immeasurement at church when they aren’t experiencing encouraging fellowship or spiritual leadership that pushes them toward faithful Christian living.
Surely, all of us can understand why problems like these are detrimental to a church family. So what can be done about it? I’d like to take this and the next two midweek articles to offer some solutions.
Anonymity can be fixed by all of us making an effort to get to know others. Getting to know others comes with inherent risks, but those risks are worth taking. We’ve all had awkward interactions with fellow Christians when we don’t know each other, but let’s not let those experiences stop us from trying as we should. Right now, our congregation is growing, but we’re still small enough that we could all know each other well (a blessing that many other congregations don’t have), and so we should work diligently toward that. Don’t settle for just knowing a few people; be a blessing to everyone around you. Risk the potential awkwardness and make sure that no one around you is left feeling unknown or forgotten. And if you’re a person who feels this anonymity… I encourage you to believe that those feelings will fade the more that you help others overcome the same feelings. The better you know them, the better known you will be.
These things can’t be fixed by one person or by a select few. It’s up to all of us as a church. So, ask authentically how others are doing and support them through the life things that they’re experiencing. Show hospitality to other Christians. Learn people’s kids’ names. Learn what talents others have and how they are a blessing in the world. Remember that “church” means people, and remember that being involved in church means being involved with your fellow Christians. And all of us can do that.
Overcoming the signs of a miserable job depends largely on the management team at that job. But overcoming the ‘signs of a miserable church life’ depends on the whole church. The problem of anonymity can creep into our relationships if we aren’t carefully guarding against it. So let’s work together at pouring ourselves out for the good of others, and we’ll see the power of God at work within us to do more than we ask or even imagine.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
“But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’” (Acts 10:26)
An astonishing aspect to the spread of Christianity is the lack of notoriety sought by the apostles. When Peter had an opportunity to receive veneration by new Gentile converts, he refuses it. Paul and Barnabas likewise exhibited this aversion to worship and honor. The Gentiles were prepared to treat them like gods, and they had the humility and sincerity to reject the offer and weep at the confusion of the Gentiles (see Acts 14:12-15).
Unlike almost every other religious movement in the history of the world, the leaders of the early church clothed themselves with humility and equality to those who they were teaching and leading. How did Christianity spread? It spread by honest, servant-hearted leaders who sought to conform themselves to Christ’s character. No efforts to venerate themselves or get their way—Christians put Jesus on a pedestal, and all of us gathered as one at His feet.
Tired of religious corruption and scandals? Me too.
Let’s just be Christians.
“For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6)
- Scott Beyer. Minister for Eastland Church of Christ in Louisville, KY. Shared with permission.