Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
Life presents us with many situations that we wish were different. Whether on a work team, in a neighborhood, at our kids’ schools, in the church that we worship with, in our families, or anywhere else that we regularly find ourselves; there are things that we wish were improved. In any situation like that which each of us faces, we must have the wisdom to assess whether the nature of that situation can’t be changed, can be changed and should be, or can be and shouldn’t be.
There’s a great deal of mental calculating that goes on when determining things like that, and we have to be deliberate with which of those outlooks we take on a given thing. Because some of the things which can be changed will require power beyond our own to affect the change, but we often interpret that as a “can’t be changed.” And so we need to have the wisdom to know the difference.
And this helps us to assess how we approach God in prayer. We wouldn’t pray for a change in our lives that goes against the will of God; that’s not exactly “things that can’t be changed,” but it’s similar in that there is no reason to ask for God to change it. And maybe there are some things that could be changed, but they shouldn’t; mercifully, God often denies those requests when we ask because he knows that we are asking for base reasons (see James 4:3).
But, when there are things in our lives which we want changed and which can be changed (even if requires power more than our own), we can, and we should, take those things to God. Sometimes, the reason that we face unfulfilled desires is as simple as what James said: “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (Js. 4:2)
Let’s be sure to use good wisdom when we approach God in prayer (cf. Eccl. 5:2), and let’s do so from a perspective of hope, trust, humility, and intentional thoughtfulness.
- Dan Lankford, minister
- thanks to Barry McCann for the inspiration for this post
In the aftermath of a shooting a few years ago, one news agency played a soundbite of a victim’s mother who said, “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.”
On another occasion, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, one Christian tweeted: “When things like this happen, don’t pray. DO something.” Perhaps even more disheartening was the number of enthusiastic responses he received from other Christians.
Biblically-minded Christians are right to be saddened when we hear responses like these. We see the inconsistency in directing our hope to God and also refusing prayer. We see the inconsistency in another Christian’s thinking that prayer and action are contrasts when prayer is a most important first action in response to a tragic event. It hurts us to hear anyone—whether believer or not—belittle something so sacred and so wonderful as a prayer to the God of Heaven.
Because we know that prayer is more than a magic incantation to distance us from suffering. And we see that, even in moments of deep pain and deep outrage, rejecting prayer is not just a rejection of people who pray; it is a rejection of God to whom we pray. My hope for all of us is that we live and speak in such a way that the world becomes aware of how powerful prayer really is because they see how powerful God really is.
Far from being a simplistic distraction from one’s own pain or a heartless dismissal of someone else’s, prayer is how we approach God in our pain. It is a place to build and enjoy a relationship with God Almighty. It is—and it must always be—faithful Christians’ first and most trusted response to wickedness and suffering in this world.
- Dan Lankford, minster
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
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
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
Our prayers reveal what's truly in our hearts, whether they’re said publicly or privately. And I’m afraid that sometimes, the small prayers that we offer show that our faith in God is smaller than it should be. Maybe we need to pray bigger.
I was once in a service when the only prayer offered before Bible class was, "Father, help [our brother] to present the things that he wants to present this evening.” Can you see an issue there? That's different than praying for a teacher to have a ready recollection of the things that he's prepared, and it's very different than praying, "Father, help our brother present the things that you would want him to say." Both of those are things that we should want: We should want a brother to speak for God (that's what teaching a Bible class is, after all) and to have the things of God so fixed in his mind that he can recall them and speak them skillfully. We ought to be asking God for his will to be done and his words to be spoken—not simply what we want to present.
When that’s the prayer that we offer, it can sound like we're mostly interested in the speaker making a successful presentation. But 1) God can use unsuccessful presenters to speak his words (see Ex. 4:10, 2 Cor. 10:10), and 2) a class or sermon shouldn't be about what the speaker wants to say anyway. If we want to hear from God, let's pray to hear from God. Because if all that we pray for is for the speaker to speak his own ideas well, that's probably all that we'll end up with — a good presentation of the speaker's ideas, but not the words of God.
Consider two pieces of advice for how we think about our assemblies and about prayer:
- Remember that Bible classes and sermons are more than presentations—they are occasions for God's people to hear God speak. Ezra read from the words of God and gave the sense, and Paul told Timothy & Titus to speak to people as though they were speaking God's oracles. None of them prayed for opportunities to say what they wanted to say — they spoke for God. The Bible classes and sermons given in a congregation are categorically NOT tests of a man's presentation skills—they’re all about God.
- Choose your words when you pray. Think about the nature of our gathering in God's presence, and pray accordingly. I feel confident that David would not have prayed merely for correct notes and good voices for the worship leaders at the temple—he wanted them to be skilled in leading the hearts of the people toward God himself. We ought to want the same thing when we read and expound God's word. So let's pray for what we really [should] want to happen at our gatherings: that God would be glorified by a group of people whose hearts hunger to know him and his words.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Back in 1 Samuel 7, God’s people faced yet another conflict with a continual enemy: the Philistines. The Philistines ambushed them during a time of national celebration, intending to inflict huge numbers of civilian casualties. But God intervened and routed then without much of a battle, and the Israelites only had to pursue the Philistines as they retreated.
As they were chasing them, Samuel the prophet had the presence of mind to perform this seemingly small act: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer [which means ‘Stone of Help’ in Hebrew]; for he said, ‘Till now the LORD has helped us.’” (1 Sam. 7:12) That stone became significant enough to the people that they named the place after it for many years to come. But more than that, it showed the people a beautiful demonstration of gratitude. Granted, 1 Samuel 7 doesn’t reference gratitude or thankfulness directly, but Samuel’s monument is a clear demonstration of appreciation. And by the fact that he names the source of their blessings, he shows deep gratitude to God for their blessings.
The Ebenezer stone stands as a reminder for us today. It reminds us that wherever we are in our walk of faith and the transformation that has taken place in us over time, we have GOD to thank for that. The tendency to all humanity toward ingratitude is a bit like climbing a ladder, then standing on the heights and kicking the ladder away and proclaiming, “Look at how great I am for getting here by myself.” It is God who has brought us to whatever heights we’re presently at. “Till now, the Lord has helped us.” Whether each of us have overcome a great personal evil, or developed great influence and vibrant relationships in Christ, or been enabled to raise faithful children, or grown in our spiritual maturity, or been empowered to lead through great trials… thus far, the Lord has helped us.
On Wednesday night next week, we’ll gather as a congregation to return thanks to God for the many things he’s done for us. We’ll spend an hour mostly in prayer, asking him for very little, because we have so much for which we can truly and exclusively express our thanks. I truly hope that you’re planning to be there with your church family.
But more than that, I hope that you will establish an Ebenezer in your life: a commitment as solid as a rock to be thankful to God for the help that he has given you. Maybe it's a date on a calendar, a journal where you write those things, a group of people that you pray with, or just a time of solitude on Thanksgiving each year in which to pray. Whatever your method, give God thanks for helping you thus far.
- Dan Lankford, minister
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.]
In Acts 20:17-38, the Apostle Paul spoke with the elders of the church in Ephesus. In what they knew would be their last conversation, he advised them about their future as church leaders, and he reminded them of how they started. Books could be written about the inspired guidance given in that short text, but for today, just consider Paul's approach of addressing both the past and the future at a crucial turning point. There's obviously a lot of wisdom in that approach, as evidenced by the many other Bible leaders did the same thing (Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David). They understood the wisdom of humbly thanking God for his past & present blessings and entrusting themselves to his goodness with a positive outlook on the future.
As a church family, we're at a turning point. God has shown his goodness to this congregation for the past two and a half decades, and we would do well to be immensely grateful. From the time that Northside was founded, we have grown, changed, seen members and leaders come and go, moved to new worship venues, reached new people with the Good News, faced and overcome challenges, and maintained faithfulness to God through prayer and the ministry of the word. And who is to be commended for all of that? Our long-timers, those who came before us, our preacher and our elders, parents & grandparents who teach the faith to their young ones, and above all the Spirit of God who has taught and guided and blessed. All glory belongs to God.
And as we look forward from this crucial turning point, I truly believe that God will continue to be with us if we continue our work of service to him. If we pray, if we "hold up the book," if we care about each other, and if we teach the lost about Jesus; he will continue to give us renewed spiritual life and growth in numbers. And when that happens, all glory will still belong to God.
So I encourage you to make time for sincere prayer in these coming weeks. The Hagans have just three weeks left here. Let's tell God how genuinely thankful we are for their influence, teaching, and loyalty these many years. And I would ask you to pray earnestly for me and my family for the next several weeks, that I will faithfully fulfill the ministry that God has given to teachers of his people.
We're looking back and reaching forward; all for God's glory.
"Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you." (2 Thess. 3:1)
- Dan Lankford, minister