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Everything that we do for God should be done with excellence.
I have been reminded of this recently in studying about Israel's priests. God's commandments for them set a lofty precedent. The way they behaved, the way they taught the law, and particularly the way that they served in worship were all supposed to be of the highest level of moral and practical excellence. When they did not give their best, God condemned them strongly (cf. Mal. 1:6-14).
This is an easy lesson for us to learn from God's instructions for the priests: If he wanted excellence in worship from them, then he surely wants the same from us. So put thought effort into what you do in worship. If you will lead in a service, think deliberately about what job you will do, why you are doing it, and how you can do it best. Pray for God to help give you the right heart and the right abilities to glorify him. Learn from those who do things well, and imitate their skills. Above all, come with a mind set on rendering the quality of service which God deserves.
And even if you are not leading in worship, plan to give your best to God. Sing well, pray sincerely, eat his Supper with joyful gratitude, and have his word on your heart so that you can engage with it even more in Bible class. There are myriad ways that we can improve on our service to him. As he expected excellence from the priests who stood in his presence, we should serve with excellence as we stand in his presence every time we worship him.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim. 1:5)
Moms and dads, by default, we will be the most influential figures in the lives of our children. That doesn't mean that they will always follow our prescribed paths for them, but it does mean that we—by divine appointment—have an outsized influence upon their thinking, their habits, their words, and their life story. And because that's true, we have a responsibility to be deliberate with that influence. The instruction to fathers and the example for mothers that are quoted above remind us of the simple truth that those who believe in Christ have a God-given commission to teach our faith to our children.
So, here are a few pieces of advice in that regard.
1) Don't abdicate your responsibility to the school, to the internet, or even to the church. They may be valuable supplements to their lives, but non of those are a substitute for godly parenting—not even good things like Bible classes or involvement with other young Christians. No matter who instructs them, you must choose to be their most present and most well-connected teacher. Guide them into a love for God's word, guide them into a commitment to excellence in all that they do, show them the importance of selflessness and humility in relationships, and instruct them in truth so that they readily recognize and repudiate falsehood.
2) We need to be aware of trends in the world. Because the world is often not shy about their desire to interrupt the influence that parents have on kids, particularly for Christians who actually hold Biblical teachings with conviction. (Here's one piece of evidence to back up that claim.) So just be aware. Listen to the educational philosophy of their schools and to new rules and policies that are put into place. Paranoia is very seldom helpful, but alertness is always good. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” (1 Pet. 5:8) So let's pay close attention and make sure that we can maintain our God-given charge to be the primary influences that they need.
Ultimately, this is about us doing our dead-level best to bring up children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. That's a project of epic proportions that God has given to us, and so we'd better be devoted and prayerful without ceasing if we're going to get it right.
- Dan Lankford, minister
All of the company’s senior executives were at the board room table, and they were discussing how they could outpace the growth of a competitor. The competitor had surged into their industry and was expanding rapidly, opening multiple new locations every month and on trend to vastly out-sell them. And so the board members were intent on growing bigger before their competitor could. Until the CEO spoke up. Having sat quietly at the far end of the room for awhile, he started banging his fist on the table until he had everyone’s attention, and then he said simply, “I don’t want to hear about how to make this company bigger. I want us to talk about how to make it better. If we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.”
The wisdom in that simple statement is profound, and it applies in some way to every human enterprise, whether we have customers or not. And it’s true of a church too. If we continually try to make it better, it will bet bigger. If our Bible classes offer rich insights into the Word and relevant guidance for life, people will see the value in that and come to hear it. If our group worship leads them to open their hearts individually to powerfully perceive God’s glory, they will see the value in that and come to experience it. If our preaching enlivens people’s minds and invigorates their hearts to want to serve God better, they will understand the value of that and come to hear it. If our fellowship demonstrates the power and joy of relationships, outreach, generosity, and brotherly love; they will perceive the value of that and engage with it too.
That’s why church growth is always primarily about spiritual growth. It’s about us continually getting better at what we do to serve God, and a group that does that will inevitably grow. It worked that way in the first century, and I believe that it still will today.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Checklists help pilots safely run takeoffs and landings, they help wedding planners see to every detail of their events, and they help tax pros cross every t and dot every i on our returns so that we don’t have to pay any more than is absolutely necessary. They just help us to make sure that we are completely engaged with what we’re doing; ideally preventing us from missing an important component of an important activity.
So, here’s a checklist to help us with Sundays. Here are a few reminders that can help us make the most of this important part of life.
Before church time:
- Pray. Pray for God to help us truly worship and truly learn.
- Read. Open your mind and your Bible to hear God speak. Look ahead at Bible class materials and be ready to participate in classes (and make sure your kids do so too).
- Give. Purpose ahead of time how much you will give to the work, remembering what it’s for: Helping needy saints and supporting the eternally important work of preaching.
At a service:
- Introduce yourself to a new member or a guest.
- Encourage someone who led part of the worship service.
- Talk to a kid or a senior saint who might otherwise be overlooked.
- Encourage an elder and/or a deacon.
- Invite someone to share a meal with you — either at your house or out at a restaurant.
- Look at the lobby board and find a way that you can volunteer or help.
Imagine if we all did these things every Sunday. How would our relationships with each other and our love for God be better?
Let’s find out :)
- Dan Lankford, minister. Special thanks to my wife, Kaitlin, for providing the main idea of this post.
It's a new year, and the advice is flying. Some columns, bloggers, and TV personalities tell us, "This is the year to revolutionize your life! Time to change everything!" Others say, "Start small. Just adjust something little and don't try to do everything all at once." And still others will insist, "If you want to change something in your life, just change it no matter what time of year it is. New Year's resolutions always fail." In the flurry of advice, it can be disorienting and discouraging to determine which perspectives are worth believing and following.
Can I offer a little bit of balance to that whole thing?
First, Christians should remember that growth is a part of who we are. Until we attain perfection like Christ's, we will have room to grow. Even the apostle Paul, as he talked about Jesus' resurrection and perfection, said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But 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." (Phil. 3:12-14) Even he recognized there was room in his life for spiritual growth.
Second, Christians are called to peace and joy and contentment; not fear and discouragement and anxiety (Phil. 4:4-7). So how do we cultivate an internal drive toward growth while not letting that outlook roil up our anxiety about goal-setting and accomplishment? Answer: We learn to be content without becoming complacent. Complacency halts growth because it convinces us that, "Everything is already fine just the way that it is." That mentality cripples our desire to grow into the maturity of Christ as we should. But it is possible to be grateful to God for the growth that he has given and also praying to him to continue to build us up.
I hope that you do have some faithful goals for how you want to grow and that you're praying for God's strength in you to accomplish those. And I hope that, no matter whose advice you follow in setting those goals, you'll follow the Spirit's advice and find contentment but not settle into complacency.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Not long ago, I found myself in a good-natured argument with a friend at work about whether it's more noble for respect to be given automatically when we meet someone or whether it's something that has to be earned before it's received. Here's the question that she asked next: "Is a thing worth more when it's given or when it’s earned?”
That question fascinated me from the moment that she asked it. And as I've thought about it, I think the answer is: it depends. Some things are worth more when they're earned, but many things can only be had as gifts—they simply can't be earned. And the worth of many of those things is estimably greater.
So back to the original discussion subject: Is respect worth more when it's given or when it's earned? And I think the answer in that case is that it's worth a great deal when it's given... but the earning process has the potential to make it worth even more.
But if we lift our eyes to grander concepts—things that pertain to eternal salvation—then we must acknowledge that their inestimable value is in the fact that they must always and only be gifts. Neither the grace of God nor an entry into Heaven can ever be earned by those who receive them. The same is true with God's gift of his son, Jesus: It was not because of our goodness that Christ came to earth, but because of God's good will. And so it is with the greatest gift: the gift of life itself. Nothing in all creation has ever earned life; it has always been a gift from God. Perhaps the process of earning a good life has the potential to make the gift worth even more, but it is a gift no matter how much we may devote ourselves to earning it.
Through life’s trials and struggles, we may gather many eternal treasures. But when we lay them down at the feet of our Lord, we will receive a gift from him that is far greater and inestimably more valuable than the gifts that we may give him. What we earn along the way will pale in comparison with the gift that we will receive when we have finished the course and kept the faith.
- Dan Lankford, minister
My reflections on Christianity in Mozambique, based on Sunday's presentation by one of our elders.
Whenever I hear about missions work—the efforts of devoted men & women who give their time and effort to taking the gospel into places where knowledge of it is scarce, I'm encouraged.
- I’m encouraged by remembering that salvation by faith in Christ is for everyone, whether they live in wealth or poverty.
- I’m encouraged to see every person as a soul whose greatest need is salvation in Jesus. I’m encouraged to remember that every person is precious because they are made in God’s image and are his child.
- I’m encouraged that people see the value of teaching the truth about God, and they will do so even when only one person has a Bible.
- I'm encouraged that God is making a way for people to learn his word in spite of corruption and evil in human polities and governments.
- I’m encouraged—thanks to the pictures shown Sunday—to have seen the faces of some of our brothers and sisters in our faith. They are people with whom we may share little by way of customs or birthplace or language or economic station… but with whom we share the most important thing: our faith in the God of Heaven & Earth.
The Gospel is for all people, and it's a great blessing when we who know it can find ways to go and share it in places where it has been unknown. Rod's Sunday comments about the lack of Bibles remind us how fortunate we are to have it and to live in a place where universal literacy means that all who care to can read the words of God in our own language. We're reminded how fortunate we are to have people near to us who can teach the word well. We're reminded how fortunate we are to be so economically blessed. And we're reminded how important it is that all people are given the opportunity to learn the good news of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.
So, here are two pieces of practical advice as we think about all of that. 1) Pray for our brothers and sisters in Mozambique to remain faithful and to grow in wisdom and understanding of God's word as they serve him. And 2) think through your life and what you have that could be a blessing to others. Can you set aside time to evangelize in our community? Can you donate money to a mission or faithful charity that you believe in? Can you write a letter to encourage a missionary in another part of the country or the world? Can you make a visit to another place in the country or the world to work alongside those who labor to convert outsiders and to build up the church of Jesus Christ? Think about it, pray about it, and decide how you will help the word of God continue to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).
- Dan Lankford, minister
In 1990, country artist Paul Overstreet wrote and recorded his song, "Seein' My Father In Me." If you're a fan of sentimental 90's country music, you should give it a listen. If not, at least take a few moments to read the lyrics:
Last night we brought the children by to visit their grandpa
And it's plain to see they're truly part of him
While we were there
Their Grandma took out some old photographs
Man, he sure looked a lot like me back then
I'm seein' my father in me
I guess that's how it's meant to be
And I find I'm more and more like him each day
I notice I walk the way he walks
I notice I talk the way he talks
I'm startin' to see my father in me
A lot of us realize as the years go by that we are unconsciously taking on characteristics of our parents. All the things that Overstreet talks about just sort of happen to us as we live longer and collect more memories in life. But wouldn't it be all the more wonderful if an honest look at our lives—whether from ourselves or from outsiders—revealed that we were also taking on characteristics and behaviors of our heavenly Father?
There is a key difference between how we mirror our parents and how we imitate God's nature: We are far less prone to assume God's characteristics unconsciously. It must be a series of choices; an ongoing, purposeful effort to cultivate hearts after his own heart. The idiom that says someone is "the spitting image of your father" is said by some to be derived from saying, "You are the spirit and image of your father." Would that our lives were truly like that—that we embody the spirit and image of our Father in heaven.
How are you doing with that? What would your life actually be like if you were deliberately, continually increasing in your likeness to God's own holy nature? What differences would people see in you? How would your calendar or your budget look different? How different would your words be if you talked the way he talks? How would your relationships be improved if you walked the way he walks? What efforts can you make today to be transformed more completely into his image?
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another..." (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
- Dan Lankford, minister
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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
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