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Old Men and Ecclesiastes

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Three obituaries for old men have caught my attention lately. The first was Frank Borman: part of the Apollo 8 team—the first group of humans to ever orbit the moon and see the earth from the vantage point of space. He died in early November at the age of 95. The second was Norman Lear: a TV producer and major influence in the entertainment industry—responsible for the creation of “All In the Family” and other shows, and a moral revolutionary who deliberately pushed American culture in a decidedly liberal direction for a long time. He died last Tuesday at the age of 101. The third was Paul Earnhart: a preacher of the gospel who had influenced the lives of so many by sharing the gospel and by teaching it in its greater fullness, working both in this country and in western Africa since his early 20’s. He died last Wednesday at the age of 92.

Which of those men do you think made the greater impact? Obviously, it depends on how you measure it. One could argue for the astronaut: a man who went farther out into God’s created universe than anyone ever had. Another could argue for the TV producer: a man whose work influenced (even subtly) the thinking of millions of people, leaving ideas planted in many minds that would eventually be passed on to successive generations as an ingrained cultural inheritance. Another could argue for the preacher: a man whose words opened people’s hearts to the eternal love of God in Christ and gave them hope that saves for eternity.

Measured for spiritual value, which is of the highest worth, there is of course no contest between the three. The oracles of God were spoken by brother Earnhart, and the truth of those oracles echos through the halls of eternity.

But what happens to humanity at large now that these three men are gone? Was their impact so great that any of their deaths will change the nature of mankind? Not really. In fact, you may have never heard of some of them—maybe any of them. In Ecclesiastes, the Holy Spirit says, “of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (Eccl. 2:16) Three men lived long and made a powerful impact, and then they went on to their eternal fate. As Solomon said, “the same event (death) happens to all...” (Eccl. 2:14) Humanity continues on its endless cycle of trips around the sun, living out life under the sun, seeing and experiencing both good and evil, wisdom and foolishness, pleasure and pain, ups and downs, wins and losses, birth and death.

Does all of that mean that our choices and our relationships are irrelevant? No. Quite the contrary. It simply tells us that we are each very small when compared with the universe, the relentless scope of time, and the enormity of the human population. And yet, even in our smallness, each of us understands that our lives—like the lives of those three men—matter a great deal. Every human life matters, even as small and powerless as we may be. Each of us bears the image of God in a special way, and each of us has the option to let his power work through us to make a true impact in our small segment of reality.

So what impact will your life have, whether you have another 90 years or just a few days to live? You almost certainly won’t change humanity at large, but you can make an eternal impact on even just one person close to you, and that’s a worthwhile endeavor indeed.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Bringing You Joy Brings Me Joy

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

On Monday, the Denver Post ran the story of a woman whose grown daughter was killed in a mass shooting at an Aurora, CO movie theater eleven years ago. In the time since then, the mother has traveled to the sites of other mass shootings in the U.S. to offer comfort to other victims’ families. She has visited Newtown, Parkland, Uvalde, and other places where a gunman took the lives of four or more people. And she’s had a simple message for those who’ve lost loved ones: “Your grief is real, and you will find joy again.” Over and over again, she has sought out those who are experiencing the deepest pain of loss, who are tempted to pull away from others and mourn alone; and she’s told them that she was tempted to do the same but that helping others has helped her find joy again since her daughter’s death.

It always encourages me to hear of people who, in spite of their own pain, open their hearts to others and think of their good. Their ability to see beyond themselves and do good for others is one of the most admirable character traits. It’s an embodiment of the kind of humility that ought to be a characteristic attitude of all Christians, whether in our times of suffering or of safety, of comfort or of conflict. Our job is to look out for the good of others and to serve them joyfully, finding our joy in the work of bringing joy to them.

This was the example of Christ himself, the man who selflessly washed his disciples’ feet on the night that he was agonizing over his impending death. When he had finished, he told them, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (Jn. 13:15) Let’s learn from his example and from noble examples that we see in the world around us so that we too are always looking for ways to serve others joyfully, believing that through our service to them, we will also be blessed by God.

- Dan Lankford, minister

You Don't Want Me To Pray?

Sunday, November 05, 2023

In the aftermath of a shooting a few years ago, one news agency played a soundbite of a victim’s mother who said, “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.”

On another occasion, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, one Christian tweeted: “When things like this happen, don’t pray. DO something.” Perhaps even more disheartening was the number of enthusiastic responses he received from other Christians.

Biblically-minded Christians are right to be saddened when we hear responses like these. We see the inconsistency in directing our hope to God and also refusing prayer. We see the inconsistency in another Christian’s thinking that prayer and action are contrasts when prayer is a most important first action in response to a tragic event. It hurts us to hear anyone—whether believer or not—belittle something so sacred and so wonderful as a prayer to the God of Heaven.

Because we know that prayer is more than a magic incantation to distance us from suffering. And we see that, even in moments of deep pain and deep outrage, rejecting prayer is not just a rejection of people who pray; it is a rejection of God to whom we pray. My hope for all of us is that we live and speak in such a way that the world becomes aware of how powerful prayer really is because they see how powerful God really is.

Far from being a simplistic distraction from one’s own pain or a heartless dismissal of someone else’s, prayer is how we approach God in our pain. It is a place to build and enjoy a relationship with God Almighty. It is—and it must always be—faithful Christians’ first and most trusted response to wickedness and suffering in this world.

- Dan Lankford, minster

A Christian Response to Israel and Hamas

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Massive change can often happen in a matter of hours. This is true in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and whole countries. And we’ve seen that happen in the past year with the start of two wars: one in Ukraine and now the one in Israel that started just this week.

It boggles the mind to think of the speed at which the Israel conflict has escalated. The terrorist organization, Hamas, successfully launched a huge-scale secret assault into Israel and killed upwards of 1000 Israeli people. Israel responded with a swift declaration of war and bombing attacks on cities in the Gaza Strip. And even since Israeli retaliation has begun, horrific atrocities committed by Hamas agents have continued to come to light, including the murders of approximately 40 babies in one Israeli town. The combined death toll for both sides is now over 1,500 people. The speed of escalation can be likened the German march into Poland about one hundred years ago or the French march into Russia about two hundred years ago. By any measurement, it is already a violent and tragic conflict.

As individual Christians, our response to these events ought to include at least these four things:

  • First, sorrow and sincere compassion at the great violence done and the terrific sense of loss that is surely present among the innocent on both sides. Violence fills God’s created earth with innocent blood (cf. 2 Kings 24:4), and we ought to keep our hearts soft enough at all times that they can be broken to see so much life taken.

  • Second, a reflex to draw the peace that God gives us even closer to our hearts so that we do not fear whatever is to come next. We have hope in God—the kind of hope that expects him to fulfill his promises. And so in times when the ground below our feet seems to suddenly become unsteady, we cling to “the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” (Heb. 6:18-19)

  • Third, a clear perspective on the end times: I’m not a premillennialist, so I don’t expect to see signs of the impending end of the world. And my hope is that no matter how or when the end of time comes, as Christians, we are already determined to be ready. This is a point that can easily be taken from Jesus’ parables told in Matthew 25. The point in all of them is this: be ready every day, because that day will come without warning. Some believers will inevitably become greatly afraid that these events in Israel are a sign that God is about to write the final chapter of Earth, but we can be ready and not be fearful because we know that we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Jesus warned his followers in his day not to be made afraid by every war that started or rumor of a war starting, but to be ready at all times to escape the judgment that would befall Jerusalem (Matt. 24:4-14). And he has warned us to be ready at all times for the judgment that will befall the world, whether or not we think we see signs of its approach.

  • Finally, increased sincerity in our appeals for Christ to come again quickly. I don’t expect that his kingdom is to be set up again in the land of Israel, but I do expect that his second coming will “cleanse the earth of noisome things,” setting aright all that is wrong. I long for the time when “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11)  “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” (Rv. 22:20)

So pray for Israel. Pray for their common people and their national & military leaders. Pray for the innocent people who are in danger in all areas where the violence spreads. Pray for the other nations who get involved in this conflict to have wisdom in doing so. Pray that God will providentially allow righteous justice to be meted out. Pray for peace and resolution and a swift end to war. Pray for Christ to come.
 

- Dan Lankford, minister

In Denial Of the Truth

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Two Sunday nights back, the question was asked: “Do you think the ideologies of the LGBTQ revolution will continue to have traction in our culture or if that will eventually run out of steam?” Interestingly, The Guardian newspaper reported three days later that among the British public, support for gender ideology is in decline. I will skip the specifics of the study for brevity’s sake, but the general take-away points to reality’s frustrating (to the secular worldview) persistence. It’s just impossible to deny realities that are so apparent. Like the absurdity of believing in the nonexistence of God, it is absurd to believe that unchangeable realities simply bend to our wills. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” (Rom. 1:19)

So it may be that the moral revolution that our culture is in the throes of is already beginning to abate. If that’s so, then God be praised for even the smallest steps toward a restoration of moral sanity. Every step in the right direction counts!

There is a law found in the Torah that forbids moving a boundary marker on a neighbor’s land (Dt. 19:14). There were imminently practical reasons for that in ancient Israel, but the commandment works well as a teaching metaphor: once you move a significant boundary marker, there’s no other right place to put it down. The only proper place for it is right back where it was. Such is the case with the boundary marker of gender. God knows where it goes. We’d better leave it there.

It may be that our culture is beginning to realize that the effects of moving the boundary marker of gender are more than they bargained for. It may be that reality is starting to dawn on more people. Let’s continue to pray to God for his power to right the world, both in regard to this sin and plenty more.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Tragedy At the Bottom of the Sea

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Last Sunday, a submersible with five people aboard set out to visit the Titanic wreckage at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a tourism trip—an opportunity for people who had paid very large amounts of money to visit something that only a few others have seen. But when the tour group didn’t return on schedule, a global search initiative was started, which lasted for days. But, on Friday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that pieces of the vessel had been found on the ocean floor and evidence had been brought forward from U.S. Navy sonar monitoring that caused them to believe the vessel had succumbed to the deep ocean’s extreme pressure and suffered a catastrophic implosion sometime Sunday, undoubtedly killing all five people aboard.

Tragic stories like these are a regular part of human societies. From cave explorers to high-altitude test pilots to small ships out on the ocean to extreme mountain climbers… the library of humanity is full of stories of people who tested the limits and were overtaken by the natural forces of the world.

How should Christians think about these things? First, we should grieve with those who’ve lost loved ones, being willing to vicariously experience the emotions that they must surely feel now. And we should pray for God to comfort them in this time of grief. It can be tempting to keep ourselves distant from hurt, thinking that others somehow do not merit such authentic concern from us. But that is hardly the attitude of Jesus who looked down with compassion on our broken world and came to comfort and heal us. We would do well to “weep with those who weep,” even with those who are outside the family of faith.

Second, it should remind us just how small and limited we are in power. For all that humans have done, we have still failed to build a tower to the heavens and to accomplish all the things that we propose to (cf. Genesis 11:1-9). We are severely limited by time, space, the natural forces of God’s created world, and the power that he still has over us. Even the power of the world’s greatest kingdoms is still governed by the far greater power of God who sits on the throne of Heaven (cf. Dan. 4:17, 25, 32). How much more, then, should we expect to be subject to the power of the massive natural world when we are so small in comparison to it and to its Creator?

Should all these things make us afraid? No, I don’t think so. But I do think they compel us to recognize our weakness and to glorify the one who rules over all it. We live in a reality that contains threats to us from every direction—both the infinitesimally small and inestimably huge. And we know a God who is both grander and more intricate than all of it.

The world occasionally reminds us of our own insignificance. Let’s let that lesson have its due effect on us as we consider this past week’s tragedy at the bottom of the sea. May we remember that we are not worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12), but he is!

- Dan Lankford, minister

It's In The Research & Also the Bible

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

 

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

Sober. Vigilant.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

 

Back in early February, after a Chinese balloon had been shot down in American airspace, the commander of NORAD confessed that his organization had a “domain awareness gap” that needed to be figured out. Obviously (and thankfully), knowing what all that will entail for his team is far above my pay grade, but I found the term intriguing. There’s something more significant about it than simply saying a “blind spot.” The term takes ownership of a domain—a realm of responsibility.

Solomon advised his readers to oversee our individual domains with these words: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?” (Pr. 27:23-24) His point was that we should keep a close eye on that which God has given us to oversee. This is especially important for those who oversee a congregation. Two of the qualifications for elders are that they must be sober and vigilant, knowing the condition of the flock well (1 Tm. 3:2, KJV).

But the principle can be applied to every saint. Whether your domain is a family, a work assignment, a church, a department, a class, a neighbor-hood, or just your own heart; we’d better know and understand and guard our domains well. The apostle Peter admonished his readers to be sober and vigilant against the roaring lion who seeks to devour us (1 Pt. 5:8). Even if one's domain is just the thoughts of his own heart, he must to do what he can to prevent awareness gaps.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5)  Don’t let an awareness gap leave your domain open to attack from our adversary. 

- Dan Lankford, minister

Pray for Turkey & Syria

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Tragedies—especially natural disasters—seem to strike with some regularity across the globe. Volcanoes, landslides, tornadoes, and hurricanes all remind us how small and weak we are in the face of such forces. But even with that being the case, it is pretty rare that something brings about so much loss of life as the countries of Turkey and Syria have experienced this past week.

In the wake of a truly massive earthquake, the death toll is now at 36,000, and it continues to rise. Security camera footage and aerial surveys show the complete destruction of many apartment buildings—buildings whose collapse would surely mean the deaths of hundreds of people each. It staggers the mind to think of how many people are grieving the loss or serious injury of loved ones this week because so many lives were suddenly snuffed out.

The Christian outlook on these things ought to include several things:

  • First, we’re reminded that we live in a world that is broken by sin, and the consequences of that brokenness are both enormous and very sad. We pray for the day when God’s redemption will bring about total freedom from the fear of death that looms over us.
  • Second, we’re reminded that people are the same everywhere, and all need sincere compassion. The grief that we would experience under such soul-wrenching circumstances is what thousands upon thousands are experiencing in Syria and Turkey right now. We need to be willing to open our hearts to experience pain sympathetically with them, and we need to pray for them as they process and live with their grief. We would also do well to continue to pray for those in a similar region of the world whose homes continue to be devastated by war; the fighting between Russia & Ukraine continues to drag on, and there are many victims of that destruction for whom we should also pray.
  • Third, we’re reminded that our lives are just mists that appear for a little while and then vanish (Jas. 4:14), and so we need to learn the lesson from all of Jesus’ examples in Matthew 25 (the virgins whose lamps ran out of oil, the men with three amounts of talents, etc). Namely, we need to be soberly aware that any day could be our last, and so we must be prepared for the Lord’s return. Maybe that’s a heavy realization to carry every day, but it’s a powerful motivator to help us do the right thing each day.

Events like last week’s earthquake should have a sobering effect on us. They should increase our consciousness of our own mortality and remind us that our daily choices matter a great deal. How will we live for Christ? How will we care about others? How will we be prepared today for his return or for our own death? 

- Dan Lankford, minister

A Christian Response To The Dis-"Respect for Marriage" Act

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 61 to 36, passed what is called "The Respect for Marriage Act," which effectively attempts to redefine marriage by federal law to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. And you might be thinking, "Didn't the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage across the country back in 2015?" Yes, they did. But what we're seeing now is the movement by the entire legislative branch of our government to put that precedent into codified law throughout the land. That the law is called "The Respect for Marriage Act" is profoundly misleading—even intellectually dishonest, because its first outcome is to repeal a previous federal law ("The Defense of Marriage Act" from 1996) that did respect marriage for what it is: the exclusive union of one biological man and one biological woman (although no one felt the need for the word "biological" in that sentence back in 1996). The new law was supported by all Democratic senators and 12 Republicans, had support from plenty of activist groups and even a few religious bodies (including the Mormons, oddly enough), and now all it lacks to become the law of the land is a signature from President Biden, which he will almost surely provide soon. All of it serves to "not only do [these unrighteous things] but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32)

How should Christians respond to news like this? What does it mean for our daily lives of faith and for our outlook on reality and for our place in society? Well, those are big questions that probably deserve more long-form writing, but here are four short responses to help us process all of it today:

  1. In our daily lives, we will probably feel very little substantial change right away. But Christians everywhere are already well aware of the not-so-subtle support of all activities and lifestyles connected with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ideologies all around us. It comes to as a gradual process of a few isolated incidents at a time, and we will likely continue to see more of those episodes in the course of normal life. A gay or lesbian married couple as next-door neighbors, more and more LGBTIQ+ characters in shows and movies, a coworker who invites us to witness their marriage to someone of the same sex, a city hall building that hangs a rainbow flag over the front of the building (this example is a current one in Colorado Springs), and more direct promotion of these sinful behaviors targeted to our kids. The challenges will likely continue to increase, and we need to remain resolutely committed to Scripture's teachings that God intended marriage to be the exclusive and sacred union of one biological man and one biological woman for their whole lives. There's a lot more to be said for how we talk about that conviction, but it's nothing that would ever diminish the import of our conviction about God's word.
  2. Christian couples need to value our own marriages and treat both the institution of marriage as well as our own spouses with the utmost honor. The world may enact policies and plans that undermine the integrity of God-ordained marriage and the selfless, holy love that ought to be characteristic of it, but Christians will still shine as lights out of darkness if our marriages demonstrate the love and respect of Christ and his church (see Eph. 5:33). Our examples in that closest of relationships will be one of the many ways that we can shine with Christ's light and let others see the glory of God (Mt. 5:16).
  3. These new developments at the federal level will very likely cause some challenges to religious liberty in the U.S. Back in 2015, when the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision was handed down, Justice Samuel Alito asked the U.S. Solicitor General how he thought that the decision would affect Americans' religious freedom, and he responded, "You know, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue." Yeah, it is. There will be challenges for religious schools and other parachurch (i.e. religious, but not church-connected) organizations who attempt to hold their religious convictions consistently (there already have been, and not just for Christians), and there will probably be challenges to Biblically-convicted churches themselves for the teachings they espouse on the subject. What will we do? Well... First, we will not be scared of Christianity being stamped out. Jesus said that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18), so Christians shouldn't be worried about losing in the grand scheme of history. Second, we should help our communities make decisions in favor of truth. Our votes, letters to the editor, or speeches in the school board meetings may be against the tide of the masses, but if we're speaking the truth, God will see that it's heard. And third, churches and their leaders need to be thinking ahead about how we will continue to hold on the truth, even if it costs us our charters, our tax-exempt status, our facilities, or some of our members when we do so. If things get dramatic enough that we lose everything to persecution, we will still have God, and he will not leave us or forsake us. And so we need to be mentally prepared to hold up the book and stand on truth for God's glory, no matter the cost.
  4. And all of this reminds us why we can't put our trust in anything other than God for surety in this life. If the Proverbs are going to instruct us to trust God more than even our own minds to get us through life (Prov. 3:5), then we for sure want to trust him above any government entity or worldly philosophical view. Only he is trustworthy enough to teach us the truth about every situation and circumstance. Only he can show us how to leave the darkness of error and live in the light of truth. Let's put our faith in him completely and exclusively.

There is a steady pace to the changes that we're seeing in our society. Many of the proponents of the new law about marriage have said that this is an important first step toward affirming LGBTIQ+ Americans, and that they believe there is more work to do. That's problematic because it forgets that this is not nearly the first step toward affirming those sinful behaviors and also because it warns us that more similar advances of the LGBTIQ+ agenda are likely ahead of us. But, in whatever we face in the present or the future, we know that God is with us, that he is righteous and unchanging, and that our perseverance to the end with him will grant us the reward that he promises.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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