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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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A Christian Response To The Dis-"Respect for Marriage" Act

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 61 to 36, passed what is called "The Respect for Marriage Act," which effectively attempts to redefine marriage by federal law to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. And you might be thinking, "Didn't the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage across the country back in 2015?" Yes, they did. But what we're seeing now is the movement by the entire legislative branch of our government to put that precedent into codified law throughout the land. That the law is called "The Respect for Marriage Act" is profoundly misleading—even intellectually dishonest, because its first outcome is to repeal a previous federal law ("The Defense of Marriage Act" from 1996) that did respect marriage for what it is: the exclusive union of one biological man and one biological woman (although no one felt the need for the word "biological" in that sentence back in 1996). The new law was supported by all Democratic senators and 12 Republicans, had support from plenty of activist groups and even a few religious bodies (including the Mormons, oddly enough), and now all it lacks to become the law of the land is a signature from President Biden, which he will almost surely provide soon. All of it serves to "not only do [these unrighteous things] but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32)

How should Christians respond to news like this? What does it mean for our daily lives of faith and for our outlook on reality and for our place in society? Well, those are big questions that probably deserve more long-form writing, but here are four short responses to help us process all of it today:

  1. In our daily lives, we will probably feel very little substantial change right away. But Christians everywhere are already well aware of the not-so-subtle support of all activities and lifestyles connected with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ideologies all around us. It comes to as a gradual process of a few isolated incidents at a time, and we will likely continue to see more of those episodes in the course of normal life. A gay or lesbian married couple as next-door neighbors, more and more LGBTIQ+ characters in shows and movies, a coworker who invites us to witness their marriage to someone of the same sex, a city hall building that hangs a rainbow flag over the front of the building (this example is a current one in Colorado Springs), and more direct promotion of these sinful behaviors targeted to our kids. The challenges will likely continue to increase, and we need to remain resolutely committed to Scripture's teachings that God intended marriage to be the exclusive and sacred union of one biological man and one biological woman for their whole lives. There's a lot more to be said for how we talk about that conviction, but it's nothing that would ever diminish the import of our conviction about God's word.
  2. Christian couples need to value our own marriages and treat both the institution of marriage as well as our own spouses with the utmost honor. The world may enact policies and plans that undermine the integrity of God-ordained marriage and the selfless, holy love that ought to be characteristic of it, but Christians will still shine as lights out of darkness if our marriages demonstrate the love and respect of Christ and his church (see Eph. 5:33). Our examples in that closest of relationships will be one of the many ways that we can shine with Christ's light and let others see the glory of God (Mt. 5:16).
  3. These new developments at the federal level will very likely cause some challenges to religious liberty in the U.S. Back in 2015, when the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision was handed down, Justice Samuel Alito asked the U.S. Solicitor General how he thought that the decision would affect Americans' religious freedom, and he responded, "You know, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue." Yeah, it is. There will be challenges for religious schools and other parachurch (i.e. religious, but not church-connected) organizations who attempt to hold their religious convictions consistently (there already have been, and not just for Christians), and there will probably be challenges to Biblically-convicted churches themselves for the teachings they espouse on the subject. What will we do? Well... First, we will not be scared of Christianity being stamped out. Jesus said that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18), so Christians shouldn't be worried about losing in the grand scheme of history. Second, we should help our communities make decisions in favor of truth. Our votes, letters to the editor, or speeches in the school board meetings may be against the tide of the masses, but if we're speaking the truth, God will see that it's heard. And third, churches and their leaders need to be thinking ahead about how we will continue to hold on the truth, even if it costs us our charters, our tax-exempt status, our facilities, or some of our members when we do so. If things get dramatic enough that we lose everything to persecution, we will still have God, and he will not leave us or forsake us. And so we need to be mentally prepared to hold up the book and stand on truth for God's glory, no matter the cost.
  4. And all of this reminds us why we can't put our trust in anything other than God for surety in this life. If the Proverbs are going to instruct us to trust God more than even our own minds to get us through life (Prov. 3:5), then we for sure want to trust him above any government entity or worldly philosophical view. Only he is trustworthy enough to teach us the truth about every situation and circumstance. Only he can show us how to leave the darkness of error and live in the light of truth. Let's put our faith in him completely and exclusively.

There is a steady pace to the changes that we're seeing in our society. Many of the proponents of the new law about marriage have said that this is an important first step toward affirming LGBTIQ+ Americans, and that they believe there is more work to do. That's problematic because it forgets that this is not nearly the first step toward affirming those sinful behaviors and also because it warns us that more similar advances of the LGBTIQ+ agenda are likely ahead of us. But, in whatever we face in the present or the future, we know that God is with us, that he is righteous and unchanging, and that our perseverance to the end with him will grant us the reward that he promises.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Quiet Quitters, At Work & At Church

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Have you heard the term "quiet quit"? Articles and advice columns on the 'phenomenon' (I use that term very loosely) of quiet quitting are popping up on business websites, blogs, and newspapers everywhere. And research organizations are busy analyzing and quantifying it. The term has even gone viral on TikTok.

Basically, that's become the modern term for doing the bare minimum requirements when you're on the job. The phrase cleverly labels the behavior or a person who might as well quit because they're no longer going for anything better or more noble than the lowest level. They've checked out of the possibility of growth or advancement or helping others, and now they're just getting by and getting paid.

That problem on the job is at least as old as the New Testament, because the apostle Paul admonished our brothers in Colossae with these words: "obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col. 3:22-23). We need to make sure that we are learning from Paul's words; that we aren't "quiet quitters" at work. Whether or not it garners any payoff in the workplace, we ought to work as if it's for Christ. And if our work is for him, then it needs to be our very best.

There's also the potential problem of "quiet quitting" on a group of God’s people, and this is a temptation that Christians everywhere face at different points in life, whether they're new to faith or seasoned veterans in the Lord's army. Whatever the reasons, they come to do the bare minimum to remain on the membership of a congregation, but they show no more signs of involvement than that. They don't make connections with other Christians, they attend sporadically, they keep to themselves, they read their Bible infrequently, they know few names their Christian family members, and they turn down invitations to special gatherings like potlucks (or, on the flip side, they only show up for potlucks... kinda funny; kinda not). Churches everywhere have members like this, who do only the bare minimum to remain on the membership.

Having put it in those terms, church starts to seem like the place in life where quiet quitting may be the most prevalent.

So what's to be done about it? What are the remedies? Here are two quick thoughts:

  • First, it’s up to every individual; take ownership and decide not to be a quiet quitter. Find a way to GROW, engage, develop yourself and others. If our answer is, "I can't help anyone, I'm too deep into my own problems," then that is all the more reasons to reach out and engage, because someone in the church can help you. Wherever you are starting from, all of us can move toward deeper engagement and stronger fellowship. Everyone has something to offer to someone else. The Holy Spirit said, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..." (Rom. 12:6)
  • Second, it’s up to the leaders to develop a culture of engagement: a place where people have opportunities to build others up (and not just in the assemblies), to see and encourage potential for growth among all, to build authentic connections, and to know that they are valued. The Proverbs writer advised: "Know well the condition of your flocks" (Prov. 27:23), which means that leaders need to be well-connected and well-informed and continually praying for their church members in order to enfold and engage them in fellowship of saints that we are.

The research that’s out there is good for workplaces: It’s so nice when all the elements of an engaging culture are present at work. But especially in a church, people ought to be able to find a vibrant, engaging culture in the group—a place where they know they are valued and where they freely and enthusiastically share that unique value with others.

What can YOU do to make that culture stronger and make sure that no one is quiet quitting on Christ's people at Northside?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Forever Devoted to the Fundamentals

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Coach John Wooden was one of the winningest college basketball coaches of all time. His UCLA teams won 10 national championships during his career there. And while there are many positive things that could be said about him and his coaching methods, one particular thought rises above the others: Wooden was devoted to the fundamentals.

Every new player that joined the UCLA team was taught how to put on their socks and shoes—an education in doing things right from the most fundamental, foundational elements of gameplay. They endlessly ran dribble drills and layups. They were devoted to doing the basic mechanics correctly, because they knew that no amount of athletic prowess could compensate for failure at the most basic levels.

The coach's outlook has a lot of correlation to the ideal outlook of the Christian life. Because the fundamental disciplines and practices of the Christian life are of truly crucial importance. Things like reading the Bible, habitual prayer time, visiting those who are sick and afflicted, participating in church assemblies, and giving to the poor—they may seem like the simplest things, but their importance cannot be overstated. If we're going to shine with Christ's light to those both near and far, then we can't neglect them.

So, make a determination to practice the fundamentals. Devote yourself to reading and knowing God's word, to speaking with him daily, and to regularly connecting with his people. If we're consistent with these practices, over time, they will enlighten our minds and enliven our hearts more and more to be the saints that God has made us to be.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Surprised when God's way works?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Do you ever find yourself surprised when God's way works? Of course none of us ever should if we trust him perfectly, but that's precisely the problem, isn't it? We don't trust him completely, and so even when we do what God says, we don't always expect things to work as well as they actually do.

The example that brought this to mind recently was an article in the Wall Street Journal that reported research which indicates that married couples are approximately four times wealthier than their cohabitating counterparts. Those who live together without getting married do not have the same financial advantages that married people do, even when they share their lives and have been together for similar amounts of time. The crucial line in the article says, "As of 2019, the median net worth for cohabiting couples age 25 to 34 was $17,372, a quarter that of the $68,210 for married couples of that same age range."

Why is that? Well, the article reveals some of the answer, and Christians who think with Bible-guided wisdom know the rest. Part of the answer is purely economical: tax benefits and the increase of compound interest for a married couple's combined accounts. But the real reasons are much more philosophical and yes, theological.

According to one sociology professor, many couples now regard marriage as a capstone event in life: the final piece that gets put into the arch once all the other pieces below it are set. Past generations would have thought more of marriage as a cornerstone life event: the one upon which many of life's most meaningful other elements are built. This view from past generations is much more in line with the Biblical view which elevates the joy and blessing of a godly marriage. The family—much more than the individual—is the foundational building block of a society. And marriage is the cornerstone of that building block.

So we must ask the question again: Do you ever find yourself marveling when God's way works? Of course, none of us should if we trust him perfectly. But even Christians occasionally look to this kind of research and, rather than finding it satisfying to see the unique ways that God's wisdom works, we wonder if it's right. Or perhaps we think to ourselves: "That's strange; I wouldn't have thought that it makes any difference." In any case, we would do well to be grateful to him when we see God's good plans leading to good results. And we should not let incredulity reveal that in our deepest hearts, we didn't trust God's ways after all. God's way works. Period.

Do we really, truly believe that?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Accountability

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The final section of Sunday's message featured several pieces of advice for enduring the various temptations that we face. I'd like to take the opportunity to add one more idea that will can be very helpful in working toward faithfulness:

Make yourself accountable to someone for your spiritual behavior.

James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." This is what accountability is all about: someone in whom you can confide when temptation discourages or when you make the choice to sin. The idea is that each Christian would have someone in his or her life who cares deeply about their spiritual well-being and who will correct, rebuke, and exhort us through the struggles of living faithfully (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). And while it can obviously be really hard to face the reality of our sins as we confess them to someone else, the rebuke and correction and accountability will ultimately compel us to grow—to be more faithful to God and stronger to bear our temptations.

"Accountability partners" can be a close friend in the faith, a church leader, or just a stalwart example of faithfulness that you believe you can depend on. You may agree with them to regular phone call check-ins, a routine meal time and which you talk and pray together, or just someone who is okay with your sending them a text to say, "I'm struggling right now. Can you say a quick prayer for me?" Do whatever arrangement works for both of you, just as long the ultimate goal remains constant: That we're learning to walk more faithfully with God.

There are a few caveats and bits of advice that should accompany our thoughts about accountability:

  • First, we have to notice that the advice is to make yourself accountable to someone for your sins. This is different than saying, "I need to find someone who will hold me accountable for when I sin." If we put the responsibility on someone else, we will not grow from as we should. Even when we ask for help, each of us still needs to take responsibility for our own spiritual walk.
  • Second, if you're going to ask someone among God's people to have these difficult conversations, make sure that it's someone who is mature.
  • Third, your accountability partner needs to be of the same gender as you. Period.
  • Fourth, it's not advisable to make yourself accountable to someone who faces the same struggles that you do. Those conversations can sometimes turn into two people excusing each other's behavior rather than correcting it.

Is this THE solution to our problems with giving in to temptation? No. But it is an option that helps some people as they're trying to live faithfully for God. Along with the other advice given on Sunday morning, it's something that God can use to provide us the way of escape so that we will be able to bear our temptations.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Deep Cleaning The Soul

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The experience is a common one: we begin work on a particular problem and a deeper problem is discovered. Sometimes a minor surgical procedure leads to the discovery of a dangerous, previously unknown disease. Sometimes a home repair which seems minor leads to an expensive overhaul of plumbing, electrical, or foundations. Even a routine pickup of a room can reveal the need for a second-level deep clean when we begin to see dirt more clearly than we had before.

The apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to, “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5). When we follow instructions like that, we very often discover that our problems are far deeper than we had initially expected.

Maybe an effort to work on our continual fearfulness and anxiety reveals the underlying grime of selfishness. Maybe the beginning stage of working on irritability reveals the contaminating poison of pride at a deeper level of the heart. Maybe it is an effort to curtail some indulgent spending that reveals an embarrassing lack of self-control which has henceforth just been swept under the rug.

Does all of that mean that we should not examine ourselves so that we do not find these problems? That’s tempting, but it is unwise and unbiblical. We should not avoid the examination and all its accompanying baggage; embrace it! Just be ready to confess your sins—on both levels. That’s the only way that the first-level cleaning gets done, and it is the only way that a soul can get to that second-level deep cleaning that we all need.

The Lord has laid claim on the whole heart of any who will surrender to him. We should expect that will lead all of us to some deep cleaning of the soul.

- Dan Lankford, minister

[This article first appeared on www.eastlandchristians.org; it has been edited for this writing.]

Worthwhile Warnings

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The devastation that hurricanes cause never fails to amaze the human race, and with good reason. These powerful storms remind us of our mortality, our fragility, and our diminutive nature in comparison with God's created world; not to mention how small we are in comparison to God himself. Hopefully, these times of large-scale destruction also cause us to ponder life's realities. They are like the "house of mourning" that Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 talks about: they show us lessons and compel us to take them to heart.

Stories always seem to emerge in the aftermath of hurricanes of people who heard the warnings and yet elected not to evacuate. Typically (although not always), they have been told multiple times that they are in the "cone of uncertainty," and they have been advised or even ordered to leave for their own safety. And yet, for whatever reasons, they remain. The possibility is present that they will face the storm, and yet, in spite of the possible bad outcomes and in spite of the warnings, they stay. And of course, there are always some stories of those who have made that choice and paid for it with their lives.

This writing is not meant to reflect on the morality of that choice; that is beyond the scope of Biblical instruction and this writer's ability. However, the varied responses to a storm do give us ample fodder to think about the varied responses to the Gospel message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).

Have we, the whole human race, been warned of the coming storm of judgment when life on Earth is over? Yes. God is clear that it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment will come (Heb. 9:27). And in contrast to the predictions of storms, it's not a possibility that each of us will endure this storm: it's guaranteed. So how do humans respond? How will people respond when we—the people of God—repeatedly proclaim the warnings about the coming judgment? Some people will respond and will follow God's plan for redemption in Christ. But some will choose to remain in their sins despite what is coming for them. And while we fear for them and pray for them to make a better choice, in the final analysis, if we have faithfully proclaimed the warnings, then it is between each one and his God as to how he weathers the storm of judgment.

And so we continue to evangelize. And we continue to pray for the souls of men to be saved by Jesus. And we continue in the knowledge that the storm of judgment will come for each of us at the end of life on Earth. Are we ready? Are we helping to save others?

- Dan Lankford, minister

1) Read. 2) Think. 3) Pray. 4) Do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Living for Jesus requires a constant pursuit of greater spiritual maturity. It’s a prospect that can be simultaneously encouraging and daunting to think about. It’s daunting to think that even with a lifetime of growth, we will never achieve perfect spiritual maturity. But it’s also encouraging to know that we will always have a goal toward which we can press forward. Even the apostle 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. 3:13-15)

So how do we keep attaining spiritual growth? Many answers could be given, but the four-step process listed below is an exceedingly simple method whose effectiveness has been proven again and again:

  • READ — Read the Bible. Read faithful books about God’s things. Read righteous blogs, articles, and essays. Fill your mind with God’s things.
  • THINK — Ponder what you read from God’s word. Consider its teachings about God, its literary value, and its practical significance for your life.
  • PRAY — Pray for God’s power to work through you as you seek to live a more faithful life as one of Jesus’ followers. Depend on his power.
  • DO — Remember James’ warning: “Do not only hear God’s word, do what it says” (Jas. 1:22, paraphrased). Get busy living out what you have learned and prayed about.

By God’s grace, we each have unknown potential as a Christian. Let us continually strain forward to the greater spiritual maturity that lies ahead.

- Dan Lankford, minister

(originally published at www.eastlandchristians.org, Mar. 2020)

Do You Do As You're Told?

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

It's not a complicated question, but there could hardly be a more important one than this: Do you love Jesus? And if your answer is yes, here's a follow-up question: Does your behavior show that?

Sometimes, the thought plays a bit like a worn-out record, but there is infinite value in honestly taking stock of our lives and asking, "Do I practice what I preach?" Does my behavior match the faith to which I give assent on Sundays?

Allow me to give two pieces of advice:

1) Ask and answer specific questions that would highlight sin in a given area of your life. Take an honest look at whether you keep God's commandments regarding your money, your choices of entertainment, your marriage and family, your words, your free time, your social media behavior, your work ethic, your hobbies, your sex life, and your friendships. And then, if you discover that something is amiss, confess the sin to God in prayer and change your habits.

2) Think about how to live your life with total consistency. How can you be recognizable as the same person at work and at school, at church and at home? Does your character remain unchanged as you move from each realm of life to another? Ask and answer: how can I be consistently Christian in every area of my life?

Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." That plainspoken truth must govern every day and every area of our lives.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God With Us

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Rev. 21:3)

The greatest loss when Adam & Eve sinned was not a paradise garden, but the closeness with God which was forsaken. From then on, the purpose of God's plan from Eden to eternity comes down to one thing: he wants to bring humanity home to himself. All of his promises, his power, and his work through the apostles and prophets are an effort to bring us close and enfold us in his presence.

Doesn't that sound wonderful? Doesn't it sound like exactly what everyone in the world would want?

And yet, the story of the Bible is a repeated reminder that none of us want it enough. Our selfish choices and especially our willful sins show that we—the whole of humanity—do not, in fact, want God's presence most of all.

But in our better moments, we, as individuals, do understand what we are often incapable of wanting. So what is the solution? How is that God could promise at the end of Revelation that the dwelling place of God would again be with men? It is because of what he has done to make it possible. It is by his grace that anyone can have hope of being in an Eden-like paradise again.

Salvation belongs to our God. And so we dare not boast of anything we have done as though we have brought about our own salvation. And our hearts ought to be in a constant state of pouring out gratitude to God that he has set up his tent among us and has made us his own people. In eternity, he will dwell with us and we shall be his people. Let's be grateful for that reality; even the not-yet-perfected version of it in which we now live.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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