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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Church relationships

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One Body; Many Members

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit."  (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In this chapter, the apostle begins to use an analogy that will help us understand how the church is designed to function. He places before us a human body, and draws lessons from it all through the rest of the chapter, as to its parallel with the functioning of the Body of Christ. It is more than a mere figure of speech to say that the church is the Body of Christ. God really takes that seriously.

That is where Paul begins. Just as the body is one and yet has many members, he says, so also it is with Christ. As men and women, children, younger and older Christians; we may have different functions, but in order for the whole to function, each part is absolutely necessary. I went over two months with a broken finger. My body was not whole and it limited what I could do. When a part of the body is not functioning, other parts of the body must do extra work. Without you, I cannot be whole; without me, you cannot be whole. God’s church is at its best when God’s children are joined and working together, united in Christ, supporting one another and growing as each part of the body does it work. At our church in California, we had an elderly gentleman that seldom said much—you would be amazed if you got whole sentence out him. But he was there any time the doors were open. What an encouragement just to see.

I have been asked many times while as a member of this family worshiping here by younger folks asking if they can be of help to me or asking how I am doing or feeling. That is encouraging or helpful to make feel a part of a family.  

The church is not just a group of religious people gathered together to enjoy certain mutually desired functions. It is a group of people who share the same spiritual life, who belong to the same Lord, who are filled with the same Spirit, who are given gifts by that same Spirit, and who are intended to function together to change the world by our actions. That is the nature and work of the church.

Picture a body in motion with each part of the body in sync with the rest, all parts working toward the same goal reaching toward the fullness of Christ.  It is important that we know each other, and we should all be trying to help each member feel important and help each other to grow and be even stronger.

"So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." (1 Cor 12:25) Division was a problem that the church in Corinth dealt with. We should ask the Lord to help us gain greater facility by working together. A body isn’t made up of a whole bunch of tongues, or feet, or hands, or eyes or ears; but instead it’s made up of a combination of each of the parts of the body—one of this, a couple of thes, and some of those. You see even though God insists on unity he complicates the matter by also insisting on diversity.

God didn’t make us identical at the first birth and I don’t think he intended to make us identical at the second birth. To listen to some people all Christians ought to look alike, dress alike, think alike, have the same haircut, read the same translation of the Bible, enjoy the same type of music and raise their children the same way. But using our individual gifts and abilities is what makes us complete. God gave us the family to grow together, to weep and rejoice together, so that we can grow in unity.

So the questions we should ask ourselves, whether young or old, male or female, are: "Where am I at?  What role I will fulfill? What member of the body I will become? What function will I perform?" How will you help to make the body whole and function together? As with any body, we grow with hard work, in service to others.  Some may think we reach unity and maturity through Bible study alone, however Paul says that attaining the fullness of Christ involves serving others.

- Tim Bormann, Northside church member
 

Tense Conversations & Wise Words

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

In the past 10 days, I’ve been involved in or overhearing close friends in conversations on the following topics: Pride Month, atheism-vs-Christianity, modesty, depression, Christians and martial struggles, Catholicism-vs-Biblical Christianity, and the current state of the Israel-Hamas war. I know I’m stating the obvious here: any conversation on those subjects has the potential for argument, tension, and hurt feelings. They are all places where emotions run high and opinions grow strong.

The combination of all of those has reminded me of the importance of our words. When we speak as Christians, we are called to always speak graciously, with words “seasoned with salt,” so that we have the wisdom to answer each person appropriately in a given situation (Col. 4:6). We’re told that having the thoughtfulness to say the right thing at the right time is like giving the gift of fine jewelry (Prv. 25:11-12). We’re told that speaking the right word at the right time will bring us joy (Prv. 15:23), and that refraining from speaking when it’s right to do that will help us just as much (Prv. 21:23). In any and every situation, Christians are called to be thinking people, so that we will answer in a way that gives true benefit to everyone who hears it.

I’ve been encouraged by the Christians that I’ve heard in these conversations this week. I’ve heard believers speak their convictions, respect the convictions of others, admit mistakes they’ve made, and resolve conflict in healthy ways. I’ve heard them speak up for the truth to others who were holding to spiritual and religious errors. I’ve heard them have the humility to say, “This is what I think, but I could be wrong” when it came to some of the topics listed above. I’ve been encouraged by their examples to speak with wisdom all the time.

I hope and pray that I’ve handled the conversations where I was involved with the grace and wisdom that I should have. And I pray that for all of us—that our speech will always be the kind of gracious, wise, truthful words that Christ himself would speak.

- 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

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

Choose To Trust

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

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 

We All Have Ministry Work To Do

Sunday, April 30, 2023

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

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 3)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

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, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.

Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.

In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.

But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. Paul said, “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.

So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.

  • First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.

  • Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.

  • Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.

  • Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).

  • Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.

If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 1)

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

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

Quiet Quitters, At Work & At Church

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Have you heard the term "quiet quit"? Articles and advice columns on the 'phenomenon' (I use that term very loosely) of quiet quitting are popping up on business websites, blogs, and newspapers everywhere. And research organizations are busy analyzing and quantifying it. The term has even gone viral on TikTok.

Basically, that's become the modern term for doing the bare minimum requirements when you're on the job. The phrase cleverly labels the behavior or a person who might as well quit because they're no longer going for anything better or more noble than the lowest level. They've checked out of the possibility of growth or advancement or helping others, and now they're just getting by and getting paid.

That problem on the job is at least as old as the New Testament, because the apostle Paul admonished our brothers in Colossae with these words: "obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col. 3:22-23). We need to make sure that we are learning from Paul's words; that we aren't "quiet quitters" at work. Whether or not it garners any payoff in the workplace, we ought to work as if it's for Christ. And if our work is for him, then it needs to be our very best.

There's also the potential problem of "quiet quitting" on a group of God’s people, and this is a temptation that Christians everywhere face at different points in life, whether they're new to faith or seasoned veterans in the Lord's army. Whatever the reasons, they come to do the bare minimum to remain on the membership of a congregation, but they show no more signs of involvement than that. They don't make connections with other Christians, they attend sporadically, they keep to themselves, they read their Bible infrequently, they know few names their Christian family members, and they turn down invitations to special gatherings like potlucks (or, on the flip side, they only show up for potlucks... kinda funny; kinda not). Churches everywhere have members like this, who do only the bare minimum to remain on the membership.

Having put it in those terms, church starts to seem like the place in life where quiet quitting may be the most prevalent.

So what's to be done about it? What are the remedies? Here are two quick thoughts:

  • First, it’s up to every individual; take ownership and decide not to be a quiet quitter. Find a way to GROW, engage, develop yourself and others. If our answer is, "I can't help anyone, I'm too deep into my own problems," then that is all the more reasons to reach out and engage, because someone in the church can help you. Wherever you are starting from, all of us can move toward deeper engagement and stronger fellowship. Everyone has something to offer to someone else. The Holy Spirit said, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..." (Rom. 12:6)
  • Second, it’s up to the leaders to develop a culture of engagement: a place where people have opportunities to build others up (and not just in the assemblies), to see and encourage potential for growth among all, to build authentic connections, and to know that they are valued. The Proverbs writer advised: "Know well the condition of your flocks" (Prov. 27:23), which means that leaders need to be well-connected and well-informed and continually praying for their church members in order to enfold and engage them in fellowship of saints that we are.

The research that’s out there is good for workplaces: It’s so nice when all the elements of an engaging culture are present at work. But especially in a church, people ought to be able to find a vibrant, engaging culture in the group—a place where they know they are valued and where they freely and enthusiastically share that unique value with others.

What can YOU do to make that culture stronger and make sure that no one is quiet quitting on Christ's people at Northside?

- Dan Lankford, minister

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