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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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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

"In the Abundance of [Printed] Words"

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Normally, the world of academic publishing—the kind of thing that includes periodicals, peer-reviewed papers, and long, detailed studies on very specific subjects—doesn’t get the attention of the general public. Actually, if we’re honest, most Americans would rather read just about anything but academic journals and papers! But this past week, this was the news from one company in that industry:

Wiley, an academic publisher, has announced that it is closing 19 journals amid a massive influx of fake papers, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The publisher has retracted more than 11,300 “compromised” studies over the past two years. The Journal reported that at least two other academic publishers also have retracted hundreds of fake studies each.

Now, that’s an especially interesting series of events when the entire discipline of academic writing is set up specifically to prevent plagiarism and to make absolutely sure that only truthful, accurate information makes it to the printed page. But to find out that the mistakes, the corruption, and the lies are so widespread makes the shock that much more surprising.

It reminds me of this little bit of wisdom from Solomon: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prv. 10:19). Basically, Solomon was warning us that the more you talk (or, in the case of Wiley publishing, the more you write), the greater the chance that you will say something wrong. Whether that’s because you are deceitful, deceived, or delusional... it’s a problem that can often be fixed by simply measuring our words—saying, whether by spoken or written word, only things that we are sure are true.

So think about that before the next time you post or re-post an opinion about politics or society on social media. Think about it before the next time you point the finger at someone and claim to know why they did what they did. Think about it before the next time you presume to diagnose a problem in the life of another Christian. Think about it when you teach your children, when you teach outsiders, or when you teach a segment of the church family. Just stop and ask yourself, “Am I as sure as I can be that this is true?”

That academic journal let tens of thousands of articles go out into the public sphere that didn’t contain the information they claimed to contain. That record looks really bad for them. Don’t let your record end up looking just as bad.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Denomination Or Not... The Real Issue Is Biblical Conviction

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

This past week, the United Methodist denomination became the latest religious body to change their position on homosexuality. Just about a year ago, the governing body of the denomination had declared that they would uphold the Biblical teaching about such matters. A year later, all of that was changed at a conference in Charlotte, NC.

Obviously, this has been big news, even in nationwide media sources. But for most Bible-believing, non-denominational Christians, the news isn’t really that big, since we have seen the way that so many denominations have been trending away from the Bible for decades. That, coupled with the mass exodus of many Methodists from the denomination in the past six months basically told us that this sort of thing was coming. For us, the big story is not entirely about the denomination’s decision, but about how it’s being reported.

Some news outlets have reported the change as “United Methodists lift 40-year ban on LGBTQ+ clergy” (USA Today). Another headline read “United Methodists begin to reverse longstanding anti-LGBTQ policies” (AP News). The verbiage being used reveals their belief that these doctrinal matters are just “policy” and that they basically only go back 40 years.

But faithful Christians know that these convictions are not just a matter of policy, nor are they only a few decades old. They are a matter of Biblical truth, and they go back to when God spoke them by the prophets and the apostles. As Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). They aren’t just political issues; they are issues of sin and righteousness, holiness and faithfulness. Regardless of our beliefs and the Bible’s teachings about denominations, let’s commit ourselves to standing on more than policy. May our stance be firmly rooted in the word of God as the ultimate authority for who we will be and what we will do.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Spiritual Third Culture Kids

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

The ancient city of Philippi was in northern Greece, but it was an outpost of Rome. I was a colony, designed and built by Rome with the architecture, customs, taxes, hierarchies, rulers, and laws of Rome. Everything about Philippi looked and felt like a mini Rome. The people who lived there were not considered Greek citizens. They were Romans, and they were proud of it (see Ac. 16:21).

Knowing that makes it all the more poignant when Paul and Timothy tell the Christians there, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Ph. 3:20). The people who heard that first were living in Greece, and their citizenship was in Rome. In the same way, Christians are living on Earth, and our citizenship is in Heaven. The citizenship doesn’t remove us from the place where we live, but it reminds us that our allegiance, our culture, and our identity are centered somewhere else. More than that, the apostle is reminding them that there is a highest citizenship—one that matters more than all others, and one that overrules all others. Even with the laws and blessings of being Roman, there were more important laws and blessings for those brothers—the ones that God gave.

The same ought to be true for us too. We are Christians, and our citizenship is also in heaven. We are similar to what has been called “third culture kids” — those who have been raised bouncing back and forth between two different countries, making them a child of both cultures in part, but neither culture fully. Our countries are the world and heaven. We are of this world because we’ve never lived anywhere else, but our heavenly citizenship contrasts heavily with our worldly identity. And we are living a heavenly lifestyle, but we must still interact with the world every day. We are spiritual “third culture kids.”

And yet, one of those citizenships defines us much more than the other. The Philippians were more Roman than they were Greek, and yet Paul called them to be more heavenly than either of those. And we must answer the same call: to live in both cultures simultaneous, but with our truest identity being the heavenly one, calling us to live for Christ as we wait for his return.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Their Faith Was REAL... Ours Better Be Too

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In this week’s daily Bible reading through 1st Thessalonians, we’ve seen an apostle’s description of what conversion really looks like. It shows us the remarkable power that plain Gospel teaching has—that through it, Christ will completely transform people’s lives and lead them out of darkness and into the light of a life lived for God.

Here’s what God saw from our brothers in Thessalonica as the process of their becoming our brothers.

  • “We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
  • “…you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
  • “…you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia (northern Greece) and Achaia (southern Greece). The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere!”
  • “…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven…”
  • “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.”
  • “…when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is — the word of God! — which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

The change that they went through wasn’t small, and it couldn’t have been easy, especially since they were all essentially first-generation Christians. And yet, it was this group that Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote to with such affectionate and admiring words. Were they the perfected picture of mature, long-term Christianity and deep knowledge? No. But their faith was real, and that is what really matters to God.

Whether we’re new Christians or we’ve been around the faith for our whole lives, we must live, talk, and think in such a way that the same things could be said to commend us: that we too live out an example of active, life-changing, joyful, humble, Biblical, real faith.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Better Bible Reading

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tm. 4:13)

Have you ever noticed how it seems like people are always reading aloud to kids, but that it happens a lot less for grown-ups? As we grow, we become less accustomed to hearing stories, poems, and speeches read to us. We hear lines in plays and shows and movies, we hear song lyrics, and we hear people make presentations or speeches… but it’s much rarer that we hear someone read to us. I find that this is also true of the Bible. Whereas historical church gatherings were characterized by lengthy, thoughtful, well-practiced readings of holy scripture, modern church assemblies typically feature few readings, and usually only short ones. We typically give much more time and attention to someone’s commentary on a passage than on the text itself. The reason for this has typically been chalked up to people’s short attention spans, but surely when it comes to God’s own words, we can do at least a little bit better.

So how can we improve our general attentiveness to God’s words? I believe that it starts with better public readings. So, here are some tips for the men—both young and old—who read in our assemblies:

  • Read the text beforehand so that nothing about it catches you off-guard. Especially if it has difficult words or difficult names, think ahead and be ready for those so that you don’t fumble them.
  • Know what the main events are in the narrative or what the main points are in a discourse. Make a mental note if the passage is building one point upon another, contrasting two ideas, or has a growing intensity as it builds to its final point. In a narrative, notice what the most significant events are, when the story takes a surprise turn, or when the speed of the story accelerates and decelerates.
  • Let your voice reflect the feeling that accompanies each of those things. If a text is sweet and inviting, speak it with the gentleness that reflects that. If it’s a reprimand, let your voice reflect the sternness. If it’s a joyful concept, let the joy be felt in your tone. If it’s angry, let the anger be felt. Don’t be overly theatrical or dramatic, as it tends to cause the hearers to tune out. But a little emotional awareness goes a long way.
  • Do your best to read a text in such a way that its most basic meaning will not need to be explained when you’re done. I’ve often laughed when listening to my old sermons where I read a story from the Bible, then immediately felt the need to tell the story again. I’ve since realized that if I read the story well enough, my audience will catch its meaning. When all is read and done, your audience should also understand what God says on the first pass.

In our assembly on March 31, four whole chapters of the Gospel of John were read aloud, and they were meaningful all on their own, with little to no extra commentary. That can be the case with passages from all over the Bible as long as we take the time to prepare ourselves and we put in the effort to read God’s words well. Let’s take Paul’s advice to Timothy as a guide for ourselves, and ‘devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.’

- Dan Lankford, minister

Need God, Not The Blessings He Gives

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

The first commandment in God’s top ten was: “I am the Lord the your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3) It told the people that God comes first. Period. Obviously, that means that we must never choose that which is evil over God’s things. It also means that we must not allow even the morally good things in our lives to become gods that our hearts are devoted to more than they are to God.

Sometimes, we give far more of our hearts’ energy to the things that God has given us than we do to God himself. Like the Israelites of old, we need to occasionally be reminded not to let all the blessings that he has given us cause our hearts to be lifted up so that we “forget the LORD your God, who brought out of slavery” (see Deut. 8).

I recently heard a preacher and his wife describe the beautiful love that they share by saying, “It’s because we aren’t the most important people to each other. Her love isn’t the thing that fulfills me, and my love isn’t the thing that fulfills her. We love God most, and we’re each totally filled with his love. So it’s like when you go to a buffet and you’re completely full, then you can enjoy something sweet without the pressure of needing it.”

Would that we could think of all of our blessings that way. Would that our hearts were wholly devoted to God, so that whether we have blessings or not, we still feel that we have all we need. Would that we would never need anything more than we need God himself. Would that we would never seek anything other than him to fill our hearts and bring us true happiness.

- Dan Lankford, minister

When Human Stuff Collapses, Christ Still Stands

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the news about the bridge in Baltimore’s harbor that collapsed in the middle of Monday night. A Singaporean tanker ship lost power, leaving it on a collision course that it simply could not correct. The bridge will take months (possibly years) to rebuild, making commuting and shipping a much bigger hassle than before. The wreckage is currently still laying across the harbor, completely blocking millions of tons of freight that typically go through the port every day. City, state, and national leaders at many different levels are scrambling to fix the enormous infrastructure problems that this one incident has surprised us with. And then, more personal and tragic than any of it, there were lives lost in the incident itself, and many bodies of the dead still haven’t been recovered from the floor of the harbor. The scene is a mess, and the scale of such a singular incident boggles the mind.

As I’ve thought about the story, it’s reminded me of times in the Bible when humans were surprised to find that the things we’ve built are subject to failure and collapse. The failure at the city and tower of Babel must surely have left many people wondering, “How could this happen?! How could we lose something so grand and important so quickly?” The Israelites who lived either in the Northern and Southern Kingdom’s capitol cities when they were each sacked must have wondered the same: “How could this happen? We didn’t even realize we had so much, but now we see just how much we’ve lost!” The people whose loved ones died with the tower of Siloam fell on them and killed them (see Luke 13:4) must have been wondering, “How could such tragic destruction and loss happen so fast and hit so close to home?”

It all just reminds us that even while humanity may accomplish great things, we are still small, frail, and finite. We are often at the mercy of forces and events greater than ourselves. And so while we learn to live with the good things that we have, we remind ourselves continually not to depend on them, but rather to depend on God. So that if humanity’s defenses or towers or communication systems or political entities or economies or bridges collapse… our hope is still “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2)

- Dan Lankford, minister

He's Still On the Throne

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” (Is. 6:1)

There is a clear and simple truth that we can take away from that opening line of Isaiah’s story: the king might be dead, but THE King still sits on his throne.

And that point resonates loud and clear to the hearts of God’s faithful ones throughout all time: No matter who’s on the throne (or in the White House), God is king of Heaven and Earth. It’s a worthwhile truth to remember all the time; especially in an election year.

But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.” (Ps. 9:7)

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps. 123:1)

 

- Dan Lankford, minister

A Healthy Relationship With the News

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

People have said for a long time that the news is only bad news; only telling us about the bad things that happen in the world. But modern news is much more than information. For better or worse, it’s rife with commentary, ideologies, philosophies, and worldview. Some news outlets do their best to dial back most of that, preferring to just focus on information. But others are blatant and open about it, treating what used to be called editorial content as the core of their business model.

So how can Christians have a spiritually healthy relationship with the news? Whether you tend toward conservative or moderate or liberal outlets, whether you watch it on TV or social media or wherever… How can we keep our minds and spirits from being dominated by the constant flow of bad news? How can we keep ourselves centered rather than letting an outsider ideology encroach?

Ultimately, it comes down to which voices we listen to the most. Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice and follow it. They do not listen to the other voices that call them out of his fold (John 10:4-5). Even if we hear a voice that we think would agree with Jesus, the key is that we turn and listen to Jesus as the supreme guiding voice. That takes commitment and constant practice (cf. Hb. 5:14). And it’s essential that Christians do this, because while the world is full of voices, only one voice speaks the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

So for some of us, the healthiest relationship with modern news is a completely distant one. Some of us need to practice more moderation in the relationship; spending less time hearing and thinking about news. Some of us need to change the outlets that we listen to in order to decrease our exposure to bad ideas and bad behavior. And all of us need to make sure that how we think about the world is entirely learned from God, with the news media taking second place (at best) in our consideration of ourselves and reality.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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