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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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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

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

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