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“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)
The warning from that verse is a compelling one that obviously resonates with many people. It’s a perpetual challenge for all Christians. It’s a subtle process that we often don’t even notice we’re experiencing.
And that’s the key problem with drifting: it’s imperceptible. It’s very much the way that a boat drifts with no anchor. We may start off safely in a wide place where the water is deep enough, and so we go about our business and just enjoy the peacefulness of the water. But after some time passes, we look up and realize that while we’re inattentive, we drifted shallow water or a narrow place where the boat is about to bottom out.
This is what happens spiritually as well. We often do not notice that we have lost ground, that we’ve developed unrighteous thought processes or habits, that we’ve neglected some important relationships, or that we—like the original readers of the book of Hebrews—simply haven’t grown; we’re spiritually immature long after we should have progressed to spiritual adulthood (see Heb. 5:11-6:12). The process by which all of this happens is subtle. So subtle, in fact, that we usually do not notice when it’s happening.
For us, maybe the drift looks like a little less Bible reading, a little unkindness that we make excuses for, a little blaming someone else for our weaknesses, or a little commitment that we didn’t keep, a little item that we borrowed but didn’t return… And after awhile, all of those little infractions of morality create vast amounts of spiritual drift.
So how do we stop that process? How do we heed the advice from Hebrews 2:1 and “pay closer attention” so that we do not drift away from God and the faith? Consider these three pieces of advice:
First, deliberate growth negates accidental drifting. Seeking God intently through Scripture, through prayer, through Christian fellowship, through worship, and through faithful books will help us become stronger and more grounded, halting the drift.
Second, a regular habit of undistracted, serious self-assessment will help us be aware of our true spiritual condition. Regularly and thoughtfully checking our spiritual lives isn’t always a pleasant experience, but it’s invaluable in our efforts to grow toward God.
And third, learn to desire God; not just to be satisfied with the status quo. Because if we truly want closeness with God, that desire will never allow us settle, but we will be continually working our way closer to him, not drifting away from him.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes..." (Num. 11:1)
Have you been around people who complain regularly? Some people are dependable complainers. No matter the subject of conversation, they'll have some criticism or griev-ance or disappointment or disgust to express. And even when others point out some-thing positive, the response is, "Well, I guess I'm not as optimistic as you are." It's hard to be around people like that for very long because of the sourness that they bring into affairs.
And it's not just us who are challenged when dealing with complainers: God doesn't like it either. The passage quoted above is from one of the many occasions on which Jacob's descendants complained about their lot in the years after God set them free from slavery to Egypt. In the shadow of such great and good gifts—their salvation and freedom from tyranny—it understandably infuriated God that they would complain about petty business of what kind of food they ate thereafter.
Are there legitimate times to complain about something? Well, yes. The Psalms contain many poems that lament the present condition of the poet or of the Israelite nation, and those laments were perfectly justified. But complaining becomes inappropriate when we express dissatisfaction with a gift we've received, when we complain about something small or petty in the shadow of some great and good thing we possess, or when our speech is primarily constituted of complaints and we rarely (if ever) express gratitude and joy about the good things of our lives.
So can you see the good in something? Then say something about that good. Have you received a gift? Then express pure thankfulness to the giver. Is there an occasion to celebrate, then celebrate it. Are there people around us with goodwill, whose intentions toward us are good (even if their execution leaves something to be desired)? Then let's give the benefit of the doubt and bite our tongues with our complaints.
And especially in our outlook on life as children of God, let's be careful not to complain when our hearts and our words should be defined by gratitude. The apostle Paul warned Christians about grumbling like Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10), and the apostle Peter said that we should show love & grace to others "without grumbling" (1 Pet. 4:9). A constant (or frequent) chorus of complaints about the life that God has given us reflects a heart of ingratitude for the blessings that we do have. In the shadow of such great and good gifts as Jesus' redemptive work on the cross, should we be so base as to complain about the petty inconveniences of life? Let's resolve to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18) and "do all things without grumbling" (Phil. 2:14).
- 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
This past Monday night, an enormous Halloween party on a narrow street in Seoul, South Korea went badly wrong and left over 150 people dead and many more hospitalized with serious injuries. Most of them were in their late teenage years or early 20's. How did it happen? A single narrow street built up a steep slope was packed wall-to-wall with thousands of party-goers, when a group at the top of the slope fell and it caused a cascade of people falling on top of other people, crushing many in the process.
It's a very sad story, but the real tragedy involves more than the accident; it came from the behavior of an uncontrolled crowd. In addition the main accident, there were others who were simply trampled in all the madness. The bad behavior of the crowd also meant that, after so many deaths had taken place and so many people had been injured, the partying continued, with crowds often stepping right over the dead or wounded to continue their revelry. The vast majority of the crowd, behaving more like a mob, simply weren't aware of how bad things really were or that they themselves were the cause of so many bad things taking place.
And that's where the whole thing turns into a lesson for us: It should cause us to think seriously and cautiously about going along with the crowd. Crowds turn into mobs quickly and unexpectedly, but joining in the behavior of a large worldly crowd, even when it is slow and seems under control, usually leads to bad things.
This principle has played out often over the millennia of human existence, and it continues in our time. The world's popular philosophies often have greater influence over Christians' thinking than the Law of Christ does. Sometimes we turn to the internet, crowd-sourcing counsel from Facebook to aid us in making big decisions that ought to be more influenced by the godly counsel of church leaders. We give place to the more respectable forms of crowd behavior when we let social awkwardness stop us from sharing the gospel with unbelievers or sharing the fuller truth with believers who need to be corrected. Churches and their leaders follow the trends of churches that seem to be thriving, but they don't stop to pray for wisdom as to whether the trend will help their members seek God better. And in all of it, we just need to ask ourselves: Are we following the crowd, or are we truly seeking to do things in the wisest and most godly way possible?
Crowd behavior isn't always inherently bad. If you're surrounded by a lot of godly people in your life, hopefully the crowd will be heading in a righteous direction. But always be aware. Be more aware than the mindlessness that drove the crowd in Seoul, and don't get caught in it. Seek God. Be deliberate. Think outside the crowd.
- Dan Lankford, minister
When Paul had his opportunity to speak in Athens' great academic forum—the Areopagus—he displayed the quintessential balance of tact and conviction. And we would do well to learn both of those characteristics for our own dealings with the world.
His tact is demonstrated (as brother Truex pointed out in one of his lessons last Sunday) in the "common ground" approach that gave credit to the Athenians' evident religious bent. He didn't immediately castigate them for their idolatry; he acknowledged their pursuit of religious things and their enthusiasm for learning new things. Please do not misunderstand: Paul's approach did not involve watering down the gospel message or hiding its hard truths (see the next paragraph), but he approached his audience with the courtesy of understanding their starting point and guiding them toward Christ with gentleness. And we will have plenty of opportunities to do the same: to be gentle and patient as we share our faith with outsiders and lead them to a saving knowledge of Christ.
But tact, while it is a healthy manifestation of godly wisdom (remember: "Be cunning as serpents and gentle as doves." Mt. 10:16), can turn into cowardice when its goodness is over-extended. If we are too fearful of upsetting someone with the hard truths of the gospel, we'll only be preaching a half-strength gospel to them. But we dare not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because we know that it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (cf. Rom. 1:16). And we must not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27), both to seasoned believers who know it well and to those who have never heard it. Paul spoke unapologetically about repentance and the resurrection, even if it turned away much of the crowd (Acts 17:30-31), and we must not compromise conviction or let an excessive devotion to social convention stop us from teaching about Christ, repentance from sin, and the judgment to come.
I assume (Perhaps wrongly. If so, please forgive me.) that many who read this will think themselves unable to balance these two ideas because we believe it to be an innate skill—something that some people have and others simply don't. But that's not so. It is a skill, like all others, for which some people are naturally gifted, but which anyone can learn and improve upon. All of us can learn to take this healthy track when sharing the gospel, and all of us should be working on the skill so that can become better and better at reaching others with the truth of the Gospel.
And finally, let us never forget why this balance of tact and conviction matters: because we want others to know the blessings and the joy of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. If we can grow our abilities to teach them, then they will be blessed and God will be glorified.
- Dan Lankford, minister
|"Religion needs to be relevant. If our teaching doesn't address real life issues of today, we'll lose people and the church will die out."||"Who cares if we're relevant? Truth is eternal and unchanging. If we teach it like it's always been taught, that's enough."|
Which of those perspectives is right and which one is wrong? Would we be right to think that Biblical teaching should reflect on our current time and culture (i.e. be relevant)? Would we be right to say that God's word is unchanging and that truth cannot be adjusted by the desires of our cultural moment? The answer to both is "yes." Let me be quick to add: both of these perspectives need clarity. And yet both of them are correct in some ways.
The teachings that God gave to his people in every era of Bible history were relevant to the time and culture in which they lived. When Israel was in the wilderness, God taught them about wilderness living. When they were settled in the land, he taught them about settled living. When they were rich, fat, idolatrous, and spiritually complacent; he sent them prophets to rebuke the behavior of the cultural moment. And after the fullness of time had come, he sent the apostles out to teach Jews & Gentiles to live in harmony with each other through Christ—a very relevant message to that cultural moment.
But on the other side of that coin, what was the factor that made the teachings of each of those eras so relevant and so helpful? Was it that God continually gave new truth? Did he change the moral expectations in each new era because their understanding of human nature had evolved? Was God showing us an example of being "woke"? Was he changing his expectations of humanity based on what the majority of them believed and wanted to be true in each new era? No. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Over and over again, when God sent messengers to his people, it was to give them a right-now message about an always principle. It was to teach them how to make the eternal truth of reality relevant to their contemporary daily life.
And that ought to be our goal too. We don't have choose between what is relevant to daily life and what is eternally true, because the eternal truth of God is already relevant to right now. Our job is simply to turn the light onto those eternal principles so that we can see how they apply to today. We cannot ignore reality because we believe that truth is eternal and entirely detached from daily life. But neither can we let "relevance" be the rudder that directs our convictions.
"For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12). It is not our job to update it or bring it into conformity with modern notions. Our role is to show how its eternal nature and unchanging truth are perpetually relevant to all people in every culture.
- Dan Lankford, minister
It's a phrase that is used regularly in the world of social media marketing. The goal for businesses and brands is not just to inform their social media followers or just to entertain them; the goal is to "engage" them. What does that mean? It means that they want their followers to do something with their posts: respond with comments or re-share the content. Why does that matter? In the words of one marketing blog: "Because social media engagement builds customer-brand relationships... and increases word-of-mouth advocacy, which is a much more potent conversion tool than advertising." Essentially, "generating engagement" is a stepping stone toward a business's most meaningful moment: where the customer buys something.
Can you see how some of that same thought process could apply to how we interact with the people of the world? Obviously, our goals are more lofty than a simple business transaction: We're trying to persuade people to intwine their lives with Jesus. So how do we do that? By "generating engagement" with us that in turn turns their hearts to focus on Jesus himself.
Do you remember Jesus' two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount for how his people ought to interact with the world? He said, "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." (Mt. 5:13-14). In order for salt and light to effect their potential benefits, they must be in contact with something. Light is useless if it isn't seen, and salt has no effect if isn't applied. The idea is that both have to be used, and the lesson that Jesus teaches us there is about how we face the world: We engage with it. We do not isolate from them and shout judgment from a safe distance; we make contact and draw them alongside us so that we can move toward Jesus together.
Engagement is the kind of relationship with people in the world that brings them close to Jesus and makes them interested in learning more from him. We are like the social media account of a big company: Our aim is to generate engagement with Christ, his word, and his church. We want to engage with the people around us in a way that they are inclined to return again and again to learn more about what makes us tick, which will, of course, lead them to know Jesus better if we are living the way that we should be.
So, let's do our best to talk about Christ in ways that draw others toward him. Let's be the kind of people whose actions and words show the kind of character that they want more of in their lives. Let's know and be known, so that others may actually see us as the light of the world and give glory to God. Let's generate engagement as we represent Christ; drawing more and more people toward him every day.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Christians understand that fatherhood permeates the whole fabric of reality because our Father is the Creator. And Christian dads need to understand our immense responsibility to teach our children about our Father in Heaven.
A few years back, I stumbled across a clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan about his regular use of "dad humor" in his shows. As the two bantered back and forth in ridicule of the whole concept of fatherhood, Colbert ironically and tragically said, "A father’s job is to be distant, authoritative, and never quite pleased. That way the children can eventually understand God.”
I cringe every time I think about that. Because in that joke, Colbert is right on something that’s really important about fatherhood: it is meant to give children an understanding of God. But he could not be more wrong about the nature the God whom we want our kids to know.
My fellow dads, it's our job to demonstrate God's own nature to our kids. It's our job to show them a father figure who is righteous, who is caring and merciful, who is stern when righteousness necessitates it, who speaks often of how much he loves his children, who is selfless and puts others' best interests first, who is self-controlled, who gives good gifts to his children, who listens well and responds to help his children, whose anger is righteous and self-controlled, and who disciplines his children out of his immense love for them. It's a tall order to set a lifelong example of God's nature, and if we have the proper humility, it makes us wonder if we're up to the task. So here are four guidelines to help all of us:
- We need to be present with our children like God is with his people (cf. Ezk. 37:24-28, John 1:14, Rev. 21:3-4). Be present at home, at games, through heartbreaks and hard choices. Be present and attentive to their lives and their spirits.
- We need to regularly talk to our children and listen to them like God talks to us through the word and listens to us when we pray (cf. Heb. 1:1-2, 1 Jhn 5:14-15).
- We need to be joyful and grateful to have our children in our lives, like God, who speaks often of the joy that his children bring him (cf. 1 Jhn 3:1, Zph. 3:17). Play with your kids, do the things that they love, mark their life milestones with joy.
- We need to disciple our children—always teaching each one of them how to love God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Whether we like it or not, dads, we'll always be laying the groundwork for our kids' view of God the Father. The only question is whether we're giving them an accurate picture of him or not. I pray for all of us, brothers. It's a big job, but with God, all things are possible.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Infinite. Free from limitations imposed by outside forces. All-powerful. Sovereign controller of destiny. Not threatened by any changes or shifts. All-knowing. Eternal, and therefore free of the confines of time and from its persistent aging effects. Able to know the future with certainty. Wise enough to create, and therefore to define, reality itself on one's own terms. Fully present in multiple, nay, all places at once. Intensely focused on one thing, and simultaneously never blind to anything else. Infinite.
That is a list of things which humans are not. We are finite, and our finitude manifests itself in many ways that are categorical opposites of the traits listed above. We are confined to time, outside forces do limit what we want to do, and we didn't create reality, so we are not able to define all of it. There are just so many things which we are unable to control. And even at our best, we don't always know the best way for a situation to turn out. Our limitations ought to keep us humble and make us realize how much we need the help of someone greater than us.
This makes it imperative that we choose to trust God. In situations where our limitations make us unable to do what is best, we must trust the will and the ways of someone who is un-limited. The prophet Isaiah spoke for God, who said of himself, "...my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). He possesses all the capacities that we do not to make promises come true and to know what is the right course in every circumstance.
This is why we pray. We acknowledge that he controls what we do not, and so we humbly hand over our anxieties and cares to let him control them as he knows best.
This is why we live by his moral instructions. We acknowledge that while we might have our ideas of what is the best course of action, he actually knows.
This is why we hope. We acknowledge that we are unable to save ourselves; that since we are confined to time, eternity is always out of our grasp when we go for it alone.
There may no thought that is more foundational than our beliefs about God himself. If our convictions are to be right, if our morals are to be righteous, and if our evangelism is to be truthful, then it depends on our beliefs about God being Biblically informed. It all depends upon who he is and what we know of him.
Infinite. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-present.
We aren't. But he is.
- Dan Lankford, minister