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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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Pray for Turkey & Syria

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Tragedies—especially natural disasters—seem to strike with some regularity across the globe. Volcanoes, landslides, tornadoes, and hurricanes all remind us how small and weak we are in the face of such forces. But even with that being the case, it is pretty rare that something brings about so much loss of life as the countries of Turkey and Syria have experienced this past week.

In the wake of a truly massive earthquake, the death toll is now at 36,000, and it continues to rise. Security camera footage and aerial surveys show the complete destruction of many apartment buildings—buildings whose collapse would surely mean the deaths of hundreds of people each. It staggers the mind to think of how many people are grieving the loss or serious injury of loved ones this week because so many lives were suddenly snuffed out.

The Christian outlook on these things ought to include several things:

  • First, we’re reminded that we live in a world that is broken by sin, and the consequences of that brokenness are both enormous and very sad. We pray for the day when God’s redemption will bring about total freedom from the fear of death that looms over us.
  • Second, we’re reminded that people are the same everywhere, and all need sincere compassion. The grief that we would experience under such soul-wrenching circumstances is what thousands upon thousands are experiencing in Syria and Turkey right now. We need to be willing to open our hearts to experience pain sympathetically with them, and we need to pray for them as they process and live with their grief. We would also do well to continue to pray for those in a similar region of the world whose homes continue to be devastated by war; the fighting between Russia & Ukraine continues to drag on, and there are many victims of that destruction for whom we should also pray.
  • Third, we’re reminded that our lives are just mists that appear for a little while and then vanish (Jas. 4:14), and so we need to learn the lesson from all of Jesus’ examples in Matthew 25 (the virgins whose lamps ran out of oil, the men with three amounts of talents, etc). Namely, we need to be soberly aware that any day could be our last, and so we must be prepared for the Lord’s return. Maybe that’s a heavy realization to carry every day, but it’s a powerful motivator to help us do the right thing each day.

Events like last week’s earthquake should have a sobering effect on us. They should increase our consciousness of our own mortality and remind us that our daily choices matter a great deal. How will we live for Christ? How will we care about others? How will we be prepared today for his return or for our own death? 

- Dan Lankford, minister

Look OUTside Yourself

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

You turn things upside down!” (Isa. 29:16)

When Isaiah wrote that, he was criticizing Israel for thing God was like the idols they worshiped. They thought that he could and would conform to human desires, and consequently, they saw themselves as the gods who define reality. They thought what was best was already inside them and that God must be conformed to that.

A modern manifestation of this same underlying mindset is the belief that most problems with humans originate outside of us. Things like societal pressures, systemic injustices, oppression, philosophical errors in education, or the oppressive teachings of religion are to blame when human beings do evil things. They believe that human individuals are actually good, but evil behaviors and thoughts have been forced upon them from outside themselves.

And consequently, the world believes that the solutions must reside within themselves. And so the usual tack is to encourage people to, “Look inside yourself. You do you. You've got to find out who you really are. Look deep into your heart to find the problems that have been imposed upon you so that you can be free to be your true, good self.” This is the prevailing mentality of so much non-religious psychological and therapeutic thought, and so it has a firm hold on our cultural thought.

But what’s the overall problem with that mentality? Plainly and simply: It’s upside-down. Just as Isaiah said.

Here’s the truth that scripture teaches: Our wickedness is actually not imposed upon us from outside; each of us chooses it. Christ said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Mt. 15:19-20) And the apostle James said, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” (Jas. 1:14-15) Together, they tell us that humanity’s problems actually originate within us. And so, since the problems are intrinsic rather than extrinsic, the solutions which we need cannot to be found by searching deeper within ourselves. In fact, we can only be transformed from our wicked ways when put the self to death and seek salvation from another. The Lord promised rest not to those who sought it within themselves, but to those who sought to receive it from him (Mt. 11:28-30). And all the way back to the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke these familiar, yet convicting, words: “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)

The world will never be my ally in rightly understanding that I am the problem and only Christ can offer the solutions which I need. But God will remind me constantly that if I really want to be transformed so that I have peace and so that I can offer peace and righteousness to others, then I must look to one supreme, outside source for those things. “It is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” It is only by God’s grace that we are made right and become the good in the world that he and we wish to be.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Excellence In Worship, from the Temple to the Pews

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

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

Parenting. Let's Do It, & Do It Right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

"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

Better Before Bigger

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

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

A Checklist for Sundays

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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.

New Year's Goal: Be Content But Not Complacent

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

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

Is a thing worth more when it's given or earned?

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

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

Reflections on mission work in eastern Africa

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

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

Seein' My Father In Me

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

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

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