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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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Entertained And Misaligned

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

What We Give and What We Get

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy Valentine’s Day! Regardless of all the ways that the holiday gets downplayed or dismissed by so many, it’s a time that can remind every Christ-follower who is either dating, engaged, or married to think about how we behave toward our significant other or spouse. For Christians, that question is more specifically, “Am I being the person that God wants me to be toward the person that I love?”

  • Are we kind? Or do we respond with carelessness and harshness?
  • Do we give them the best of ourselves? Or do we leave them with the halfhearted leftovers of our energy and thoughtfulness?
  • Do we encourage them to become the best version of themselves? Or do we fear that their accomplishments will drive a wedge between us?
  • Are we sons and daughters of encouragement, breathing life and peace into their hearts? Or are we continually critical of their behavior, their words, their looks, or their efforts?
  • Do we give gifts and speak admiring words as expressions of love? Or do we just forget and neglect to communicate love?
  • Are we there to help with chores and other meaningful work in their lives? Or do we just ride on parallel life tracks that don’t intersect?
  • Do we believe the best about them? Or do we think that they want to cause us some kind of harm?

The longer I ponder Paul’s words in Ephesians 5, the more their depth amazes me. He said, “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church… “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” …let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (excerpts from Eph. 5:22-33)  Any relationship that is truly loving involves two people who are each humble enough to make it about the other person. Selfishness and pride are relationship killers. The more focus we give to our own needs and what we will get from a relationship, the less gratifying we will find it. It’s only when we learn to truly give that we begin to find the true joy that God intends to give us.

So my encouragement is this: just take stock of what you’ve contributed and what you’ve been given. Thank God for the gifts, and commit to humbly serving; never for our own good, but always for others’ good and for God’s glory.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Me & The Screen | Parenting with Screens

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

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[images sourced from Storyset.com]

Me & The Screen | Taking Responsibility For Ourselves

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Me & The Screen | Disconnected and Distracted?

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

How much time do you spend with a screen? Stats on Americans’ average usage are bandied about sometimes. But this consideration isn’t about an epidemic pattern in a group; It’s about YOU. How much of your time is spent with the screen, and which apps are getting the most of that screentime? Your phone’s Settings menu can answer these questions, and it might be worth finding out.

I find that the stats often show a different picture of my life than what I feel. I may feel that I spend a lot of time on good things throughout each day, but then the numbers tell a different story. Chances are that a lot of us are wasting some time with our devices. There are undoubtedly some productive, wholesome, and meaningful things that we do with them; but if we are being wasteful, then we should correct it.

Because wasting too much time on mindless frivolity can’t be a hallmark of a life given to Jesus. Paul warned us to “make good use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:19). And Jesus gave us his example of one who worked on the things of God while the time was right, because he was aware of the preciousness of time and the importance of using it wisely (cf. John 9:4).

Additionally, there’s the whole consideration of whether our device-centric activities get more attention than our relationships. Are we engaged in the lives of our spouses, kids, parents, friends, and others? Or are we checked out, giving our attention and care to a screen?

It might be wise for all of us to check our screentime stats for a clearer understanding of what we’re actually engaged with. Maybe we’ll find that we’re using our time exactly as we believe we should; maybe not. In either case, let’s be aware so that we can make wise choices that glorify God.

And more than that, it might be wise to just occasionally put the phone away and fully engage the people and the moment in front of you. Just exercise the mental muscles of attentiveness, care, and awe. Exercise those often enough, and we’ll find that their strength is a lot more rewarding than the mental weakness that we begin to breed when we are in a constant state of distraction and entertainment from a screen.

- Dan Lankford, minister

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Faith That Grows God's Way

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

Obedience Because It's Obedience

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Should we base what our beliefs and obedience to Christian teaching on how it will work out? Is law meant to be determined by what is good for the most people? Should the laws of a country, or a household, or a religion be based on the outcomes that experience tells us will come from those laws?

It’s a matter of faith to believe that God’s laws, as written, are to be followed implicitly, whether we expect the outcomes of following them to be good, bad, or  even impossible.

For example: Should we teach that faithfulness in marriage matters because it will bring stability to society (which it will)? Or because it is the will of God for his people? What is our stated reason for obedience? Faith in God regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?

For another example: Should we be generous to others because it will create bonds and close friendships between the receiver and the giver (which it will)? Or because it is the example and teaching that we have from the King of kings whom we follow? Again, what is our stated reason for obedience? Is it faith in God regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?

For yet another example: Should we deteremine if a religious practice is appropriate because we perceive how it will work out either like or unlike another religious group's practice? Or will we know because the word of God teaches its rightness or wrongness? Yet again, what is our stated reason for obedience in things like this? Is it faith in God's way regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?

Let’s be clear within each of our hearts that our reasons for obedience are a matter of our faith in God. Christian faithfulness isn’t mostly motivated by a reaction against others, a societal advancement program, a self-improvement set of habits, or a road to psychological comfort. All of those things are helpful outcomes that likely follow Christian faithfulness, but our obedience to him must motivated, above all, by our sincere belief in him simply for his own sake.

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)

- Dan Lankford, minister

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

Can God Trust Me?

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

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

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

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

Can GOD trust ME?

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

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