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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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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

An Abundance Mindset

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

God has continually provided all that his people need, throughout all the generations of the world. In Eden, he said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food” (Gen. 1:29). In the wilderness, he provided manna for them exactly as each family needed, so that they never lacked (cf. Ex. 16:18). When they came into the land of Canaan, Moses gave them this reminder: “the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land… a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…” (Dt. 8:7-9). And then, hundreds of years later, when Christ spoke about what it really takes to follow him and be like him, he had some memorable things to say about trusting God to provide what we need just like he provides clothing for the grass of the field and homes for the birds of the air (cf. Mt. 6:25-33).

Modern believers in denominational circles often speak of the importance of “an abundance mindset.” In my experience, that particular verbiage is not as common among members of the Churches of Christ, but it does speak well of the Bible’s regular emphasis on trusting that God always gives enough. In fact, if we can adjust our view to his way of seeing the world, we will realize that we not only have enough for ourselves and our families, but that there is always enough to share what we have with others. An “abundance mindset” constantly believes that God has given us an abundance and that abundance should be joyfully shared with others. A “scarcity mindset” believes that if we give to others, we will not have enough for ourselves, but from the Garden, God has been giving us rich examples and teachings that show that he always has and always will give enough.

Especially in the season of gift-giving, let’s work on developing a heart that always has a strong sense of trust in God which includes a powerful, joyful willingness to share that abundance with others.

- Dan Lankford, minister

So That You Won't Be Judged

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Mt. 7:1-2)

There are at least three types of ‘judgments’ that we make of others. The first is an objective determination that they are either in the right or the wrong, based on clear teachings of Scripture. The second is an informed determination that even if they they aren’t fully in the right or the wrong, they are being either wise or unwise based on Biblical guidance. And the third is a subjective determination that we just do or don’t like what they’re doing.

Jesus is warning his followers not to do the third one at all, and not to let the second one or the third one be treated as though they were the first one. God’s word judges people as right or wrong, but Christ said that it’s not in his followers’ nature to judge others’ behavior and words beyond that standard.

And there’s a personal reason for that: It’s good for us to refrain from judging. Would we who are living a Christian life be offended if someone arbitrarily badmouthed our family life, our spending habits, our friendships, our personality, or our dress? Then we’d better keep ourselves above doing that to them. If we slander others based on life rules that we’ve made up, we should expect them to do the same to us.

Additionally, to speak judgmentally of others behind their backs tarnishes the reputation of the speaker. If others hear me speak judgmentally of a brother or sister, they will easily know that I’m not a safe person to come to when they need to confess or confront something. Why? Because they know that, “He’s pretty judgy. I’ve heard how he talks about other people. I sure wouldn’t want him talking about me like that.”

And so, “judge not that you be not judged.” Jesus commanded that of us, and there are plenty of reasons why we would not only feel obligated to obey him, but we should want to prevent this harmful tendency from damaging our relationships.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Bringing You Joy Brings Me Joy

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Highest Virtue

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” (2 Peter 1:5)

In contrast to the writings of past centuries, there is much less discussion of virtue in today’s psychology and self-help literature than there used to be. The cultivation of virtues like humility, wit, diligence, patriotism, courage, moderation, justice, and piety was a chief aim of past generations’ parents, philosophers, and schools. And so it should still be among Christians.

So if you had to boil it down, what would you say is the chief virtue that Christianity should instill in us? Among many that could be listed—purity, self-control, love, diligence, patience, kindness, humility, etc—I believe that righteous love is the greatest. Love like God’s own pure, righteous, passionate, and intense love ought to be the defining characteristic of all of our relationships. Paul told the Colossians to create habits and hearts defined by compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience,  forgiveness, peace, and thankfulness (Col. 3:12-13, 15). And then he said, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col. 3:14)

But from the way that many Christians talk and act, one would think that the chief virtue of Christianity is caution. We can be hindered from helping the needy by “what someone might think” if they saw us associating with them. We can be hindered from offering passionate, whole-self worship to God by “what someone might think” if they saw us exhibiting more than stoic assent in a church assembly. We can be hindered from teaching the fullness of truth about God’s grace by “what someone might think” if they hear hear that message and misunderstand its true nature.

The chief virtue—love—often tends to act in ways that are more risky than they are cautious. So, are we cultivating the virtue of love above all else? When it’s wise to exhibit both love and caution, we should do that. But when one of them must serve the other, let’s give priority to the one that most deserves it.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Perseverance Times Three

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

In today’s daily Bible reading assignment (James 4:7 thru 5:18), James makes three encouragements from three Old Testament examples. 

  • As an example for us to learn endurance through persecution, he looks to the prophets who spoke the word of the Lord and didn’t change their message when they were hated for it (5:10-11). Surely he has men like Daniel, Jeremiah, and Zechariah in mind—men who were rejected, threatened, and imprisoned for the truth they preached. If they continued in doing God’s will, we must too!
  • As an example of steadfastness through suffering, he thinks of Job (5:11)—the man whose intense suffering could not force him to lose his blameless faith in God. As Job endured with God in spite of all that he suffered, we must too!
  • As an example for us to learn perseverance in prayer, he looks to the prophet Elijah (5:16-18). Elijah was a man of the same nature as Christians everywhere, and yet when he put his faith in God through prayer, the weather patterns of his country were affected for years at a time. As Elijah continued to pray to God in faith, we must too!

The faithfulness of God’s people throughout time ought to encourage our faithfulness today—in persecution, in suffering, and in prayer. May we have belief that is strong enough to serve him as they did, believing that God can and will continue to do great things through his faithful servants.

- Dan Lankford, minister

A Christian Response to Israel and Hamas

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Cost of Salvation & Discipleship

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

In his lesson on Monday night, brother Kenny made this excellent and helpful observation: “Justification is free. Discipleship is costly.”

Justification is free. It is a gift of the grace of God. Our only responsibility is to receive it on the terms by which God gives it. But we do not, by any action, earn justification—it’s the gift of a God who is so generous that he has already paid the extremely high cost of that justification. He gave his own perfect son so that justification would be free to us. And when we put our faith in him and receive that gift on his terms, he says to us what he said to the formerly-sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Lk. 7:50)

Discipleship, on the other hand, is costly. Christ had conversations on this topic all throughout his ministry which are especially emphasized in the Gospel of Luke. He reminded his followers through all time that discipleship will sometimes cost us our homes and families, our honor or prestige, our money, our health, and even our very lives. Why would anybody be willing to pay that cost? Is it to earn a place in heaven? No! It’s because we love him. And, “we love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Justification is free. Let us take the time to be properly grateful to God for the immense gift of his love given through Christ to make us right before him. Discipleship is costly. Let us make the firm commitment in mind and heart that we will love and serve him faithfully, no matter what we have to sacrifice to do so.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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