Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
At various times and in various places, it’s been a popular trend to rebuff the idea of doctrine or treat it as a term of art, putting it in quotes as though it’s a made-up concept. Claims are made that to emphasize doctrine is to inherently neglect a proper emphasis on Christ’s love. While of course this kind of neglect can happen (cf. the Pharisees), it is not the inherent outcome of a righteous focus on doctrine. In fact, a proper focus on doctrine will always include an emphasis on Christ’s love and sacrifice.
This can be illustrated by one sentence from Titus. Paul warned Titus that while he was Crete’s preacher, there would be many people who would cause him trouble. He called them “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers,” and said “they profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” As a response to this, Paul gave Titus one simple command: “As for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
What all does that include? It includes everything from salvation by Christ’s grace to the necessary moral behavior of the people who are saved. And this is plainly outlined later in the same letter to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things.” (Titus 2:11-15)
The word keeps us grounded in Christ in every way. This is why sound doctrine is important for every church and every Christian.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Next week, we’ll begin a four-day guest speaker series with Kenny Chumbley. Brother Chumbley has a special balance to his preaching that few others achieve: the ability to speak deep, thoughtful truth with clear, understandable simplicity.
There’s an inherent blessing in being able to hear the Gospel spoken by different personalities. In the same way that the different Bible writers’ methods strike chords for different readers, a guest speaker can strike different chords and bestow evergreen insights into the word upon us.
There are a handful of different approaches that people take toward guest speaker events at a church. Here they are, brought out into daylight, for us to consider which is our usual and which is the best approach for us to take to next week’s series:
- We wonder if the speaker “will be any good.” We think that the event’s purpose is to be impressed with a speaker’s ability, and so if he’s great, we consider the event a success. And if not, then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect that a single event will revive our personal feelings of excitement that we have experienced at special moments of spirituality in the past. And so if that doesn’t happen—if the very next Sunday feels like most other Sundays—then we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- We expect to learn something new that we’ve never heard before. If we do, then it we consider it a success. But if we cover familiar territory and receive well-timed, needed reminders about faithfully living for Christ… we are tempted to think that our time was wasted.
- If the speaker does his work with excellence and we do feel a sense of revival, we start to develop feelings of envy and a desire for more than what we believe our local church can offer us. This sense of comparison steals joy from the event and from the long-term relationships with our local church family.
- But at the end of the day, if the lessons declare the truth, speak it with clarity and reverence for God, help us live more faithfully for God, and speak with sincere love for God and his revealed word… then we’ll know that God is glorified and that our time is well spent.
Events like these should in no way be treated like an exhibition or opportunity for comparison. We should come to this like any occasion where the word of God is preached: with our hearts open wide to receive the truth as revealed by one of God’s servants.
I can’t wait to share these times of learning and worship with you!
- Dan Lankford, minister
Occasionally, I hear preachers and religious teachers talk about the importance of keeping the message that we teach simple. And there is a sense in which that’s right. Paul apparently thought it necessary to keep the truth simple enough that it could be clearly understood, and so he said that Christ had sent him into the world, “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor. 1:17) Just a few paragraphs later, he continued the same thought, noting how his speech and the concepts in it were not the lofty, esoteric discussions that one would expect from the philosophers of his time: He just taught Jesus and all that comes with knowing him (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
But all Bible teachers need to be aware that there is a difference between Paul’s ideal of simplicity and the ideal that we repeat regularly. I have heard many modern preachers and teachers advise that, “You need to preach down at the kids level,” or “Y’know, people can’t process as much as you think they can; you should simplify everything as much as you can,” or “I have one very important philosophy about how to preach and teach from God’s word: ‘Keep it simple!’”
Yet that isn’t what Paul was saying. Paul’s priority wasn’t just to simplify the message at all costs. Paul’s priority was 1) to preach the truth in all of its power and 2) to do that in such a way that people could understand it (cf. “power” in 1 Cor. 1:17 & 2:5). When our first priority in teaching is simplicity, truth necessarily gets moved to a lower priority. And we know this is possible because we’ve probably all heard sermons or classes in which the truth was so simplified that it was no longer true.
So our goal is teach the truth with clarity. Often, the simplest explanation of that will be the most helpful, but only when it retains all of the truth. If God has revealed a complex truth, then we dare not simplify it to the point of corrupting it. And yet, if there is a way to communicate complexity clearly, then let’s try our best to not overcomplicate it. In both cases, our first priority and our “one very important philosophy about how to preach and teach from God’s word” should be: Teach the truth.
- Dan Lankford, minister
On Sunday, we talked about the importance of following the divinely-spoken words of the Bible as the authority for all things, both in our personal lives and our church practices. We said in that message that we must be careful to do things God’s way and not our own. But tradition, philosophy, and personal preference are all sources that we sometimes look to for authority alongside or above the objective truth of God’s word. Here, I’d like to add one more channel thru which we often receive guidance contrary to God’s way: tribal knowledge.
Tribal knowledge, in one sense of the term, refers to the way that some principles, policies, and procedures get passed by word-of-mouth through an organization and inevitably get corrupted in the passing. In the restaurant where I work, it’s things like how sick pay functions, what to do in order to get shift coverage, and the specifics of our uniform policy. But the specifics aren’t the issue: the mentality is. Over time, like in a group of people playing a game of Telephone, legitimate elements of our work get passed from team member to team member and gradually become corrupted with each verbal transmission until they are flat-out wrong and a wholesale correction has to be made by the leaders. When we leaders become aware that it’s needed, we typically just open up the company handbook and point straight to the actual words that describe the requirements and remind everyone that they are going to be held to that standard. It’s simple and effective: an appeal back to the authority of a written standard that is accessible and knowable to all involved. And even though it must happen fairly often, it’s typically the only correction needed to the tribal knowledge that has led us astray.
As God’s people, we must have a clear and correct understanding of what the Bible says: not just the tribal knowledge of a community of believers. In Ezekiel 18, Israel had begun to use a proverb to explain why they were in Babylonian captivity. The proverb blamed the current misfortunes of God’s people on the generation that came before them (cf. Ezk. 18:1-2). But God told them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel” (Ezk. 18:3), and he went on to explain that he is righteous and holds each generation responsible for their own sins. The tribal knowledge that they had was wrong, and the authority of God’s prophetic word corrected it. The same thing is at play in the passage where Jesus condemns The Jews for “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9, Mk. 7:7). It’s a problem common to all humanity: when the amassed and embedded knowledge of a culture guides us more than the truth from the Holy Word.
The takeaway for us is simple and weighty: The general senses of Christianity and the verbiage that we accumulate from church services, YouTube videos, commentaries, and podcasts are not enough to compensate for a lack of thorough Bible knowledge. This warning applies to our general conversations with other believers: we may pick up phrases and figures of speech common among believers in our time, but we should have ears that are trained by the word of God to be discerning as to whether these things are objectively true or they are just tribal knowledge. This warning also applies to the guidance that we often hear from the realm of psychology: some beliefs that are accepted among the psych community aren’t biblical (for example: that our decisions are not actually ours—all is determined by external factors of our upbringing, experiences, etc.), but some are right and biblical, and we need to be able to tell the difference. And there could be more places where we heed the tribal, cultural voices. We just need to have our hearts trained to hear to the words of God above all of them.
Tribal knowledge creates a lot of inconsistency in a restaurant environment. It creates confusion. It even causes conflict as some who know the real policies butt heads with those who operate on the tribal knowledge. And the same sort of things can happen in a church family. If our knowledge of spiritual things is only tribal—not carefully aligned with the actual words of Scripture—we’ll face many of the same problems. So let’s go back to the authoritative written standard and agree to uphold that as our first commitment. As the Hebrews writer said, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Heb. 2:1) as God has spoken through his angels, his prophets, and especially his Son.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The word “harm” gets used with more variety of meaning than most of us are likely to realize. Some examples: “I don’t see any harm in it.” “This could harm his/her prospects of advancement.” “The crash didn’t do any harm to the vehicle’s frame.” “He suffered no physical harm from the incident.”
For Christians, though, a new usage of the word in recent years has probably piqued our interest more than any of those examples. In the last several years, it’s become common to hear any disagreement with a person’s beliefs as “harm” to that person, particularly those living out any lifestyle described in the LBGTQ+ acronym. When some express conviction that those activities and ideologies are wrong, they are said to do “harm” to those who embrace them.
But wise and honest people are able to know the difference between something that is done maliciously and harm that must be inflicted in order to bring about good outcome. Like a surgeon who cuts into the body’s tissues in order for it to heal back to how things should be, truth cuts us so that we will grow better when the cuts heal. Small wonder Luke said that the audience were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter preach about their sins in Acts 2:37.
So there is value in the “harm” that’s done by the truth, and we need to see that. And that ought to teach Christians two lessons:
1) When we speak the truth that cuts, let’s remember to do it with the proper blend of conviction and gentleness, speaking the truth in love.
2) If the preaching and teaching of God’s word ever feel like an attack to us, we’d better take a hard, honest look at how we need to change to be more of what God has called us to be in his grace.
The harm that the truth does is for our ultimate good. And maybe some believers need to learn the lessons that we would like our enemies to learn: That when the truth from God feels like a personal attack, we're doing something wrong.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10, NASB)
I sure wish that I could say I’ve always spoken words of truth correctly and that they were spoken in a way that was delightful to my listeners. But I haven’t. My preaching has often been filled with far too much of my own thoughts on the world and far too little of the words of truth that God has spoken. May God help me do better.
“The Preacher” that’s mentioned in the verse above is King Solomon, who did his best to share the wisdom of God with audiences from all over Creation. And yet, even in the life of Solomon, there must have been times when he gave a teaching and then later realized that there was a better way that it could have been spoken. But the point of the passage is that he tried to do it right, for the glory of God.
And that’s what all faithful preachers do: We try to speak for God in a way that gives befitting honor to his own spoken words. We try to give knowledge, clarity, motivation, and inspiration to our hearers so that they will turn their hearts toward God and glorify him all the more with their lives. This is a tall order for fallible men to fulfill, but if that’s the way that God’s determined to disseminate his message, we’d better do it right.
One evangelical teacher has well said, “No [minister] lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low.” To fix that, we dare not lower the level of God’s oracles to make them easier for us to attain. Rather, we’d better learn to teach the truth in its righteous height and depth, with words of truth spoken in a divinely delightful way.
- Dan Lankford, minister
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
“But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’” (Acts 10:26)
An astonishing aspect to the spread of Christianity is the lack of notoriety sought by the apostles. When Peter had an opportunity to receive veneration by new Gentile converts, he refuses it. Paul and Barnabas likewise exhibited this aversion to worship and honor. The Gentiles were prepared to treat them like gods, and they had the humility and sincerity to reject the offer and weep at the confusion of the Gentiles (see Acts 14:12-15).
Unlike almost every other religious movement in the history of the world, the leaders of the early church clothed themselves with humility and equality to those who they were teaching and leading. How did Christianity spread? It spread by honest, servant-hearted leaders who sought to conform themselves to Christ’s character. No efforts to venerate themselves or get their way—Christians put Jesus on a pedestal, and all of us gathered as one at His feet.
Tired of religious corruption and scandals? Me too.
Let’s just be Christians.
“For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6)
- Scott Beyer. Minister for Eastland Church of Christ in Louisville, KY. Shared with permission.
“How do you come up with fresh sermons week after week?” “How do you decide what to speak on?” “Is there some sort of template or guideline for what subjects or passages to preach about?”
It’s kind of surprising how often churchgoers ask questions like those to their preachers. I think part of the reason is that they’re just curious about the nature of the job. But for those who really think about it, there’s an opportunity for deep spiritual thinking in that question.
The content of gospel preaching matters a great deal, because our job is to accurately represent God’s will for humanity. Sometimes, that requires sermons that are more evangelistic—helping people get saved. At other times, churchgoers need to hear messages that help them live faithfully and make good moral choices as Christians. Other times, it’s got to be about eternal truths that transcend daily life and transcend time itself—things like the nature of God and the supreme importance of truth in reality. So how do you do it all?
The complexity of it means that there ought to be vision and forethought and prayer as these things are being planned. But the simplicity of it lies in 1) always drawing from the infinite well of wisdom in God’s word, and 2) trusting God to use our efforts to bring him glory.
Paul was diligent to present “the whole counsel of God” during his ministry at Ephesus, and we ought to do the same whenever possible. God’s plan is both deep and wide, and as his people, we ought to be continually drawing nearer to a comprehensive understanding of the whole Gospel.
- Dan Lankford, minister
*This essay was published in our Sunday Family Report as accompaniment to the sermon: "How To Get Saved." That message talks about the Biblical idea of "faith" in similar terms [i.e. "comprehensive"] to how this article talks about preaching.
“Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt. 13:52, NIV)
Those words, spoken by the Lord himself, create a metaphor for an ideal way to teach God's law. The house is God's word, and we who teach (kids' Bible classes, adult Bible classes, sermons, or just conversations w/ outsiders) are the ones who bring out the great treasures found in it. Our job is not to invent new spiritual principles and practices out of whole cloth, but to mine the treasures which are already present in God's spoken word. Our task is simple: insight, not invention.
The metaphor also helps us to see which parts of the word are good for teaching: the old and the new. Now, remember that when Jesus spoke these words, God was actively revealing truth in new ways, so there was old truth, known well by the Jews, and new principles that Jesus' disciples could know and teach. We know that God is not continuing to reveal new truth today, and so our job is to continue to teach what was old and new to Jesus' time. Put in the simplest terms: Our job is to bring the treasures of truth out of the New Testament and the Old.
And so I hope that you are a disciple who truly values and enjoys the word of God. I also hope that all of us can appreciate that he has filled the house with treasure. It's the job of the teacher to bring out the treasures and show them to others, but it's a privilege for all who can read the word to seek out those treasures that can so thoroughly enrich our lives.
- Dan Lankford, minister