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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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Choose To Trust

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

In Sunday’s lesson, we talked extensively about the unity that is supposed to characterize God’s people. But it may be that some questions linger in our minds after a discussion like that: “I see the value in those relationships, but what if they let me down or hurt me in some way? What if they have hurt me when I thought I could trust them in the past? What if we’ve known each other through church for all these years and that’s never been what our relationship was like—how would I start fixing that when it’s been broken for so long?”

The answer to all of those questions is simple to understand, but it’s difficult to do:

Choose to trust.

Every human relationship comes with risk. Parents risk their children breaking their hearts. Spouses inherently risk something by committing lifelong faithfulness to each other. Even building a friendship with anybody comes with an inherent risk: the closer they are to us, the more potential they have to hurt us. And the same is true of relationships in our church family. Will someone among God’s people hurt, disappoint, or frustrate us at some point? Probably. But are we willing to risk that happening because it’s what God has called us to in Christ? I hope so.

We have to choose to give trust in relationships. Especially after our trust has been broken, we must decide to extend it again if our relationships are to be healed. When we choose to do that, we will find that it’s reciprocated—maybe imperfectly, but still honestly—more often than not.

And so we repeat the Lord’s words again: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

- Dan Lankford, minister 

Policing Our Kids' Digital Intake

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Two Sundays ago, we talked about parenting. This past Sunday, we talked about leadership and shepherding. I believe that the two topics fit together seamlessly: As parents, it’s our job to shepherd our children into the fold of the good shepherd. Obviously, that’s a big concept that could be talked about in a myriad of ways, but for today, just consider this one aspect of shepherd-parenting: Setting and enforcing boundaries for our sheep is a way to protect them.

It’s not often in vogue to talk about the boundaries that we set for our kids, but there are eternal reasons that Christians understand as to why we must do that. First, because the boundaries that we teach them will, over the course of time, contribute to the character that defines them. And second, because proper boundaries keep them safe. Like a fence installed near a tall cliff, properly policing our kids’ activities keeps them from wandering into territory where they’ll suffer spiritual (and psychological) wounds that simply could have been avoided.

One way to do this: Christian parents need to be particularly mindful of our kids’ digital intake. What apps do they use? Who do they contact? What do they send and see and hear? What sort of messages—good or bad—are they getting on a regular basis? Parents, we would do well to either 1) set up digital boundaries that fully prevent them from access to much of the internet world, or 2) regularly check for ourselves what they are seeing and hearing. There are plenty of reasons for all of this, both from the realm of psychology and from the realm of spirituality (again, I offer the same Biblical advice from this past Sunday: “Know well the condition of your flocks” [Prov. 27:23]). And if we don’t know how to do these things with the technology that our children own, then we’d better learn or get the help of someone who does know. There is too much at stake for our kids to not invest in protecting them.

I know that many of you already do things like this, and I applaud you for it, because even if our kids resent us for a time because of the decisions we’ve made for them, we know (and God knows) that it’s the right thing to do. Each godly mom and dad will have to use some wisdom to know exactly how we will protect and guide our kids through these issues (so be sure to have some grace with other parents who make different judgment calls than you do), but godly wisdom dictates that some boundaries must be set and enforced. It’s a matter of disciplining them into being disciples of the Lord. “For [our parents] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Heb 12:10)

- Dan Lankford, minister

It's In The Research & Also the Bible

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

 

A recent report by the Pew Research Center, who study all sorts of trends connected to faith and religion, noted the following: “About a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 says it’s extremely or very important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults… But attitudes on this question vary by the religious affiliation of the parents. White evangelical Protestant parents are twice as likely as U.S. parents overall (70% vs. 35%) to say it’s extremely or very important that their children grow up to have religious beliefs that are similar to their own. Some 53% of Black Protestant parents also express this view.” The report continues: “Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%). Overall, parents are more likely to say it’s important that their children share their religious beliefs as adults than to say the same about their kids’ political views.”

Several things came to mind when I read the report. Here are just a few observations:

First, the data isn’t very surprising in many ways. Regardless of black or white, it’s not surprising that those who are regular church-goers care deeply about sharing their faith with their kids. If anything, it’s surprising that the percentages aren’t actually higher, because those who regularly attend Christian church services are, in the main, the ones who believe that the teachings of Christianity are truth. And if we believe that these things are true, then we necessarily must believe in the need to share them with our kids. If we believe that Jesus is the singular way, truth, and life (John 14:6), then we will want to share the good news about him with everyone and see all people come to follow him… especially those of our own household!

Second, I occasionally hear Christians say things like, “The faith isn’t hereditary. Each generation must have their own faith.” And while I understand the sentiment behind that, a report like the one from Pew should probably increase our awareness of the fact that the Bible does intend for faith to be hereditary in some sense. Yes, each person must come to a point of maturity where they take ownership of their faith, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater in saying that “Christian faith isn’t hereditary.” Because each generation is also supposed to teach the faith to the next generation. That was explicitly stated in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-9), and there are plenty of examples or allusions to the same thing happening among Christians in the New Testament (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). Our faith is supposed to be a gift from one generation to the next, and so it is “hereditary” in that sense, and we should be diligent to make it so.

Third, let’s make sure that we each establish a conviction in our hearts as to whether our religious practices are simply a matter of preference (“I believe in this religion, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like they have to believe it, and I wouldn’t want to pressure my kids into thinking they have to believe it just because I do.”), or if it’s a matter of conviction (“I believe that Christianity’s teachings are the will of God that he spoke thru his servants and that he verified by raising Jesus from the dead. They aren’t just ‘my personal beliefs…’ They are truth.”). Our kids will know the difference when they see it work its way out in our lives. And more than that, the Lord will know the difference, because he knows what’s in our hearts.

I hope these ideas are helpful in your thinking as a supplement to Sunday’s sermon about parenting, and I hope that in our individual hearts and in our families, all of us are growing more and more into the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).

- Dan Lankford, minister

Persuasive Evangelism; Lessons from Paul

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Sunday morning’s sermon was likely a paradigm shift for many of us in how we think about evangelism (in fact, I later retitled the message Paradigm Shift: Evangelism). Since evangelism is already on our minds, here’s a little bit of advice about how to be persuasive in gospel teaching, based on how Paul shared the truth in the city of Athens (Ac. 17:16-33). Like we talked about Sunday, it won’t work every time, but it’s worth thinking about what we learn from Paul’s great example.

  • Start where people are. Find some common ground from which you and the other party can start the things that matter most. Paul’s first address to the Athenian crowd was, “I perceive that you are very religious” (Ac. 17:22). We would do well to try to find an understandable, shareable piece of ground on which to begin talks.
  • Address what is known and unknown. What does a person know or not know about God, about the Bible, about Christ, and about salvation? Paul noted all the altars and the altar “to the unknown God” in Athens, which told him a lot about how they understood things already. It’s wise for us to ask questions to someone rather than assuming too much about their beliefs.
  • Bring attention to what doesn’t work to fulfill and save people. Ask, “Do you think that any government… or educational system… or science… or philosophy… or feel-good event… will truly heal humanity and make us what we should be?” And then draw their attention to what does work, saying something like, “But GOD can do that if we seek him.” That’s essentially the message the Paul gives, starting when he says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Ac. 17:23)
  • Tell them about the solution that will work. Paul said that God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Ac. 17:31). The solution is Jesus—the one who was raised from the dead, who is the assurance that God’s judgment will be righteous when the end comes. He is the only solution, and the one toward whom we want to direct others’ hearts and their lives.
  • Finally, push them to a decision point. It’s ultimately up to each one and the response that he or she makes to God, but there’s nothing wrong with asking someone in a Bible study, “What do you think you need to do about that?” It’s the same impetus that Paul put behind his words when he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Ac. 17:30).

There are plenty of examples that we can look to for advice in outreach (see also Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, John 4). And so I hope that these thoughts add something to your toolbox and help us make more connections as we teach others to follow Jesus and to understand the word more accurately.

- Dan Lankford, minister

 

PS — Special thanks to church member, Sean Cartaya, for creating the outline of this article and sharing it with me so that I could share it here.

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 3)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.

Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.

In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.

But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. Paul said, “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. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.

So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.

  • First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.

  • Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.

  • Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.

  • Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).

  • Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.

If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, they potentially present even greater challenges among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed anonymity; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the second of the three signs.

Irrelevance causes a person to feel that they have little or nothing to contribute. It often happens within a congregation when Christians compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes: those who speak, teach, or lead in a public way. Those comparisons—which, unfortunately, are often subconsciously reinforced by the preaching and other voices of leadership that they hear—can make a person think that if their own talents are of a lesser degree or different nature, then they don’t matter. Because of how they hear others talk or see them behave, they may feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.

Surely, all of us can understand why this problem is detrimental to a church family. It causes a perceived separation between those whom Christ has joined together. It shows partiality, whether from looking down on our spiritual siblings or from being intimated by them (cf. Jas. 2:1-9). And it shows a lack of faith in God’s promises, forgetting that he has brought us together in the body of Christ as he sees fit so that it will function at its best. If we judge, whether consciously or subconsciously, that some among us do not compare in talent or ability and are not worthy to be among us (that is, they are “irrelevant”), then we have contradicted the will of God and we need to repent.

So what can be done about it? Here are some Bible-based reminders as solutions:

  • First, remember that Christ’s church is his family (cf. Eph. 2:19). In an ideal family, everyone knows they are loved and valued. Not everyone’s family experience has demonstrated that, but it’s the universally understood ideal, and that’s what we should all strive for in our congregation.
  • Second, remember that believers don’t belong in the world, but we do belong among believers. We are outcasts from the world, and they’re surprised when we don’t join them in their wickedness (cf. 1 Pt. 4:4). But in Jesus’ church, people who seek him always belong. Differing levels of talent, of attractiveness, of sociability, of book smarts & street smarts, or of competency in any given area… they don’t divide us. As one of our hymns says, “No one is a stranger here. Everyone belongs.” We don’t belong in the world. The only place where we do belong is the church.
  • Third, remember that great Christians are those whose names are largely unknown, but who serve God faithfully anyway. I doubt that many would list Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43) as one of the most influential figures in the Bible, but her presence among her Christian community—particularly in the lives of many widows—was powerful. In fact, when she died, an apostle came to her town and raised her from the dead! That tells me that her role in the church mattered a great deal! In the same way, I can’t imagine that any of you have heard of Bertha Baggett, Eugene Pemberton, Gus Lowe, Brenda Crowder, or a host of others who stood firm in the Lord. But I could wax eloquent about their influence in the kingdom and the “well done” that they received from their master when they went home to glory. They weren’t public figures in the church, but they were anything but irrelevant because they served God and others faithfully. Even if you think your gift is only a small thing to offer to a fellow church member, it matters. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10).

No one in a church family is irrelevant! It’s a terrible shame when Christians feel that, and so let’s all do our best to notice and appreciate each other’s natural genius—the gifts that each can offer to be a blessing in God’s kingdom. Let’s work together and be deliberate to fight agains these signs of a miserable church life.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 1)

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. And while they work well as indicators of job fulfillment, the principles also serve as healthy admonitions about the quality of church relationships.

  • Anonymity: A person feels that he or she is not known or cared about. Others don’t know them well, don’t ask about them often, and seldom make an effort to understand their life struggles or victories. Others often let social awkwardness or intimidation or other forms of prejudice create distance and prevent close friendships from forming. As a result, they feel like an anonymous presence—not well-known or well-cared-for by their fellow Christians.
  • Irrelevance: A person feels that they have little or nothing to contribute. Within the church, they compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes and determine that if their own talents are lesser, then they don’t matter. Because of the way that they hear others talk or see them behave, they come to to feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
  • Immeasurement: Basically, this comes down to a lack of growth or even the opportunity for growth. It happens at work when there are no measurable skills or trackable achievements to indicate success. It happens at church when there is a prevailing belief is people just are who they are and little (or nothing at all) is done to help them grow. People feel immeasurement at church when they aren’t experiencing encouraging fellowship or spiritual leadership that pushes them toward faithful Christian living.

Surely, all of us can understand why problems like these are detrimental to a church family. So what can be done about it? I’d like to take this and the next two midweek articles to offer some solutions.

Anonymity can be fixed by all of us making an effort to get to know others. Getting to know others comes with inherent risks, but those risks are worth taking. We’ve all had awkward interactions with fellow Christians when we don’t know each other, but let’s not let those experiences stop us from trying as we should. Right now, our congregation is growing, but we’re still small enough that we could all know each other well (a blessing that many other congregations don’t have), and so we should work diligently toward that. Don’t settle for just knowing a few people; be a blessing to everyone around you. Risk the potential awkwardness and make sure that no one around you is left feeling unknown or forgotten. And if you’re a person who feels this anonymity… I encourage you to believe that those feelings will fade the more that you help others overcome the same feelings. The better you know them, the better known you will be.

These things can’t be fixed by one person or by a select few. It’s up to all of us as a church. So, ask authentically how others are doing and support them through the life things that they’re experiencing. Show hospitality to other Christians. Learn people’s kids’ names. Learn what talents others have and how they are a blessing in the world. Remember that “church” means people, and remember that being involved in church means being involved with your fellow Christians. And all of us can do that.

Overcoming the signs of a miserable job depends largely on the management team at that job. But overcoming the ‘signs of a miserable church life’ depends on the whole church. The problem of anonymity can creep into our relationships if we aren’t carefully guarding against it. So let’s work together at pouring ourselves out for the good of others, and we’ll see the power of God at work within us to do more than we ask or even imagine.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Guest Speaker Series w/ Dennis Allan — Reflections

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed our time this past weekend with Dennis & Benita Allan. I enjoyed it, and I was greatly encourage by them. Here are just a few of my reflections on the event:

  • First, I was encouraged by your interest in the presentation about Brazil on Saturday. It did my heart good to know that so many among us are concerned with the state of the church in other parts of the world. That’s a characteristic of Christians that we share with our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith — the saints from Jerusalem, Corinth, Galatia, and Antioch who sent care and aid to their brothers and sisters at various times all throughout the New Testament. Let’s keep praying for the Allans and for our Brazilian brothers and sisters.
  • Second, I was actually encouraged by thinking about how long it can take for God’s kingdom to grow. Hearing our brother describe the wonderful numbers of people who’ve become Bible-believing Christians, and then in the next breath hearing him say that those represent such a tiny fraction of all the contacts that they make, and then hearing the general sense throughout  his talk that there is every intention of persevering in the work of discipling the Brazilian people… It all reminded me that we have every reason to be evangelistic—to keep teaching others, even if it seems like we are getting few conversions or little interest. Because the word of God does work to change people’s hearts, and so we—Christ’s faithful ones—will continue to serve him faithfully by sharing the good news over and over and over again. Because it can take a long time for God’s kingdom to grow in this world, but it will grow
    • You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:14-16)
  • Third, I was tremendously encouraged by the sermons that our brother presented. He pointed us to the word and then humbly stepped aside so that we could see its truth clearly. And more than that, he subtly reminded us of the importance of the whole of God’s word by bringing us lessons from Old Testament passages which we otherwise might rarely contemplate. There are rich lessons to be learned from the moments when someone tears the clothes in the Bible, from the ending(s) of Judges, and from something as simple as the number of ox carts that God assigned to a group. And I’m glad that we had someone to shine the light on those for us.

Now that we’ve all got a little bit more personal connection with the Allans, I hope that you will feel an increased interest in the work that they do and that you will include them regularly in your prayers. If you’d like to share his lessons with others, you can find them on our website. Thanks to our elders for putting together this opportunity for all of us to hear and grow.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Christianity Beyond Our Culture

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

In the decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century, Western believers of all types felt a strong urge to teach the gospel all over the world. Mission organizations sprang up, congregations commissioned members to go overseas and plant churches, and religious colleges poured vast amounts of energy and funding into training missionaries.

And throughout that era, many hymns were written give voice to Christians’ passion for turning the world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). Many of these hymns are still sung among Churches of Christ. A few examples: The Gospel Is For All (1921), Bringing In The Sheaves (1874), If Jesus Goes With Me (1908), and Send the Light (1890). The last one in that list has a meaningful connection to the apostle Paul’s calling to bring the gospel to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:6-10). Coupling the account from Acts with the lyrics of the hymn reminds us that the world needs help. ALL people—both near and far—need the gospel because we need God to save us from our sins.

This weekend, we’re going to hear our brother Dennis tell how our Christian family members in Brazil are living out their mission to share the truth of the Word in their country. As we listen to presentations like these, we would do well to think about more than just the cultural differences that we will inevitably notice between our lives and theirs. We sometimes tend toward thinking that our fellow saints live lesser lives if they live in poverty or if their cultural norms are different than ours. But we need to remember that the richness of faith in Christ is not determined by any level of wealth, education, comfort, or modernization. The Gospel didn’t come first among American culture, and there are plenty of people who are living it out richly (in many cases, more richly than we are) in their own varied cultures around the world today. We need to remember that the higher realities of salvation, fellowship, and holiness are true beyond the scope of time and place and culture. On Saturday, we’ll be hearing about people who are our brothers & sisters—people who share our faith. And we will do well to be grateful for [and often to learn from] their example of love for our Lord and faithfulness to him.

Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries that they will continue to grow and thrive in their faith. Let’s pray the same things for us. And let’s be sure to think with the higher ideals of Christians as we do that. We’re looking forward to hearing about the Christian mission to share the Gospel of Christ in Brazil, and it’s my prayer that we are aware of how powerfully God works when his people send the light.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Fierce & Gentle

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

When Jesus sent out his apostles to teach the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he gave the admonition quoted above, and it’s a very provocative way to make the point. Snakes have a fierceness about them that manifests in their ability to get into tight spots and exploit the weaknesses of their prey. More than just ruthless hunters, they’re very clever. But on the other side of the coin you have doves, who do no harm to anything or anyone. It’s a wonderful ideal for Jesus’ apostles: a group of men, delivering a message that would reshape the world, and doing it with both the unassailability of truth and the sincerity of truly caring for the eternal condition of others.

How do we engage the world like with that same balanced approach? How can we “tear down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4) and also become “all things to all men” so that we might save them (1 Cor. 9:22)?

It starts with speaking the truth. In the modern world, this is where most believers go wrong. We are often gentle as doves, but not wise enough to tell people the hard truths they need to hear. We must be willing to say, “That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that. You can’t be saved or find true joy in anything other than Jesus.” And then, once we’ve learned to speak the truth, we can start mastering the art of dove-like gentleness. And if we do that, then people will hear and they will turn toward Christ, just as when they heard his apostles teach.

When we can put those two ideals together, we’ll not only convict the world of their sin—we’ll turn their hearts toward the God who will save them.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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