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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.

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theology

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A Christian response to mass shooting in our own back yard

Monday, November 21, 2022

By now, the news is known far and wide about the mass shooting that took place at an LGBTQ+ nightclub this past weekend, leaving 5 people dead and 25 hospitalized. For our church family, this one hits very close to home. The crime scene—Club Q—is only a 10-minute drive from our church building. And so, while all events like these stir our emotions, the geographical proximity of this one makes it impossible for us to ignore.

So how should Christians respond to this event? Here's some Biblical perspective that can help.

 First, Christians mourn for the lives that were lost, for the injuries that were received, and generally for the violence that was done. We pray for healing for those who are still recovering in hospitals. We pray for comfort of the families whose loved ones were killed. And we pray that violent events like these can be prevented and that God will hasten the day when things like this don't happen anymore. We care sincerely about those who've been hurt, and we mourn for a community that has witnessed such violence.

Second, Christians acknowledge that the place where this happened is a place where immorality is not only allowed but all-out celebrated. It reminds us of the apostle Paul's indictment of people who do wicked things everywhere, both because they do wicked things and because, "they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Rom. 1:32). I think for some believers, the fact that violence happened here might seem like divine judgment on sinful people and wicked behaviors. But it's just not possible to say for certain whether the violence was brought about by God's providential hand. It is possible, however, to know that God condemns all sorts of actions and beliefs connected with the LGBTQ+ revolution because he has said so.

So the question is: Can we recognize the immorality of the patrons and purveyors of Club Q and also mourn the loss of life and care about those who were injured? Yes. And as Christians, we must do both. We must always care about people, and especially people who are lost. And we must also maintain a firm stance in the divinely-spoken truth about right and wrong. They're both an important part of our calling.

So pray for our community. Pray for the families of the deceased and for those whose injuries are healing. And also, think about how to speak Biblical convictions on matters of right and wrong. Pray for our communities leaders. Don't be calloused to the pain that people suffer, but don't let compassion push us to change our convictions on God's plainspoken truth.

Can Christians do both? Yes. And we must. "...that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life..." (Phil. 2:15-16)

- 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

Abortion, Christianity, and the Governor of California

Thursday, October 06, 2022

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has made it very clear where he stands on the matter of abortion lately. He has signed over a dozen new laws in California in the last few weeks to create a place where abortion can be practiced very freely and very regularly. And while the whole problem is egregiously sinful and distasteful to Christians, this past week’s development in the story made it all the more inflammatory.

The picture you see here is of a billboard that Newsom’s office paid for—one in a whole series of billboards posted in states where abortion is restricted or illegal, inviting female residents of those states to travel to California to kill the unborn babies in their wombs. The problem particular to this billboard design is the fine print at the bottom of California's invitation to kill an unborn person: "'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.' -Mark 12:31"

In an open letter to Governor Newsom, John MacArthur, a church leader in California who is well-known across the evangelical community, responded with the following perspective on just how powerfully sinful is the conflation of those ideas and that particular misrepresentation of Scripture. He said:

"In mid-September, you [Governor Newsom] revealed to the entire nation how thoroughly rebellious against God you are when you sponsored billboards across America promoting the slaughter of children, whom He creates in the womb (Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–12). You further compounded the wickedness of that murderous campaign with a reprehensible act of gross blasphemy, quoting the very words of Jesus from Mark 12:31 as if you could somehow twist His meaning and arrogate His name in favor of butchering unborn infants. You used the name and the words of Christ to promote the credo of Molech (Leviticus 20:1–5). It would be hard to imagine a greater sacrilege.

Furthermore, you chose words from the lips of Jesus without admitting that in the same moment He gave the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). You cannot love God as He commands while aiding in the murder of His image-bearers."

MacArthur's letter continues on from there. And his words are harsh. And in this case, that is exactly what they should be. The problems with the governor's ads are myriad and serious. I'm grateful that someone publicly repudiated them and spoke so clearly to the scale of the problem. But it begs the question: What should we do when we see things like this? Here are some ideas for Biblically-minded responses:

First, don't become de-sensitized to the problem. We shouldn't act like the sky is falling (see the next paragraph), but neither should we allow the world's continual onslaught of assent to abortion to make us callous to the problem. The tide of immorality is not rising uncontrollably; God's sovereignty means that there is always hope of repentance. Don't be apathetic and think, "Well, that's just how things are going; there's nothing we can do about it." Always be willing to allow the heavy realities of sin to sink in and affect our hearts. Always remember the contrasting nature of good and evil. And always be convicted about what God has revealed in his word as right and wrong.

Second, don't give up hope. Sometimes, serious affronts to our faith and to truth can make us think that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams. It's not. God is still in control, and we can keep calm and continue to trust in him even while we fight against the tide of evil. Jesus established his church, and he promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. So we're not worried that God's plans in the world will fail. If we truly trust in him and continue to do his work in this world, then we can trust that he is continuing to work things out as he intends.

Third, let's be open and honest and convicted on the Bible's teachings about the sanctity of human life. It is God's prerogative to give life and to take it away; not ours. Christians must continue to believe that unborn life is sacred and deserves to be protected. We must continue to speak against euthanasia toward the very elderly and the terminally ill. We must continue to be the voices that advocate for God's gift of life to be respected whenever he chooses to bestow that life. It's not right for us to play god and make that choice in his stead.

Fourth, we need to maintain our concern for the souls of the people who promote such wickedness. There are some people in the world who have evil hearts and who desire simply to do evil. And yet, even some of those people can be saved by Jesus Christ. And so we pray for them. And perhaps even more so, we pray for those people who follow wickedness because they are ignorant to its true nature or have been deceived by its dishonest promises. We pray that they will have clarity and that they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord. We should pray for Governor Newsom and for all who promote the culture of death and abortion. We should pray that they see the truth and repent.

And finally, let's double-down on our pursuit of Bible knowledge and our efforts to share that knowledge with those around us. This life is filled to overflowing with opportunities to share the truth so that God's Spirit can change lives. But if we don't know the ways of God well enough to articulate them to a hostile or apathetic world with accuracy and faithfulness, then we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet (Mt. 5:13).

I believe that some day in the future, Americans at every level of society will feel a strong sense of urgency to erase the black mark of abortion from our history. But until that day comes, we need to be the voices who consistently call evil what it is and who proclaim the good news that Christ came to set us free from sin and death. May God give us strength, and may he hasten the day when evil is overthrown and he reigns in righteousness.

- Dan Lankford, minister 

Click here to read John MacArthur's letter.

Click here to learn about Governor Newsom's ad campaign.

Fathers Like the Father

Sunday, September 25, 2022

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

We aren’t. But he is.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

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

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

The Whole Picture

Sunday, August 28, 2022

A panorama is one of my favorite pictures to take with my smartphone. They admittedly present challenges (it's tough to move your hands steadily while taking it, they don't go easily on Instagram, etc.), but I like them because they can give a more complete sense of the reality that I was seeing in the moment. A mountainous coastline, a wide-open plain, a tall building, a big group of people; they can all be seen more completely, which makes them all the more impressive, when the picture takes in a wider view.

As Christians, we ought to do our best to develop a panoramic view of God's will as revealed in the Bible. In Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul told a group of elders that when he had been with them and their church, he "did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." Does that mean that he covered every single phrase of the Old Testament and all the things that the New Covenant teachings that the Spirit was revealing through him? Not likely. He was only with them for about 2 years. However, he covered such a breadth of God's will that by the time he left them, he could confidently say he had given them everything that they truly needed to know.

Christians, in the broadest sense of the term, have a habit of pigeonholing ourselves into particular parts of the Bible to the neglect of others. We follow our natural inclinations either toward the New Testament or the Old, the harsh truths or the happy promises, the narratives or the teachings. What we need is a balanced diet of all of it. What we need is a panoramic view of God's will that takes it all in and sees individual elements in the context of the whole.

A preacher whom I really like is wont to say, "It takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian," and I think he's right about that. Can a person be a Christian without an under-standing of Paul's deep theology in Romans? Yes. Can a person be a Christian if he struggles with moral questions in Judges or if she comes up short in her memory of some of the Torah's laws? Yes. I believe that the Philippian prison warden was truly saved on the night of his baptism, despite the fact that he likely knew very little about the Bible (see Acts 16:25-34). But is that where we should stop? Should Christians who know very little about God's will be satisfied to stop learning? By no means! If we want to become whole as Christians, then we must continually work on understanding the whole counsel of God.

No matter where you are in your knowledge of the things of God, keep growing. Keep reading and meditating on his word, ask questions to those who know, and pray for under-standing. May God give us open eyes to panorama of his word. May he draw us in more and more to comprehend the greatness of his love. May he help us to see the whole picture.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God Teaches Ezekiel to Preach

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Moreover, he said to me, 'Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD," whether they hear or refuse to hear.'” (Ezek. 3:10-11)

Ezekiel is told to do three things with the words that God speaks to him. Think about each one of them for a few moments. They serve as instructions for us too, giving guidance for all who teach God's word.

  • "Receive in your heart and hear with your ears." Ezekiel, while he is called to be the preacher, is first called to be the listener. He, like all saints, was to have a mind that was clearly open to receive God's word. Those who teach others but do not absorb the word into their hearts or put it work in their lives are hypocrites. Teachers of God's ways are not meant to be merely professionals with a skillset; they should be, first and foremost, disciples. Receive the word with your own ears and in your own heart; don't let its power pass you by on the way to your hearers.
  • "Say to them, 'Thus says the Lord.'" God did not intend for Ezekiel to go to the people and tell them his own perspective or plans regarding their exile in Babylon. He was called to tell them what God had said. And so it must be with preachers today: We must do our best to honestly represent God's teachings on every subject matter specifically because they are God's teachings. Our job is tell both saints and sinners, "This is what God says."
  • "Whether they hear or refuse to hear." This is perhaps the toughest part of Ezekiel's commission. In his time, most of his people's hearts were callous to what God had to say, so he was rejected often. And the fact remains that there will always be those who refuse to hear when truth is preached. And yet, our job is to faithfully teach it anyway. Because we believe that the effectiveness of salvation comes from the power of God—that his way always works, even if all the world rejects it. And so it is like Paul told Timothy: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2).

The task of teaching the word of God is a serious one. Pray for Jared and for me that we are up to the task. And pray for all of God's people, that we will have more people who follow God's instructions for Ezekiel and who faithfully fulfill their teaching ministry.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Bible for Absolute Beginners

Sunday, August 14, 2022

For many in this congregation and many who visit here, the Bible is a constant life companion. We know the order of its books by heart, we readily follow its numbering system, and we have at least a general sense of its chronology and the various styles of writing found within it.

But what if you didn't know any of that? How would one start getting to know this wonderful collection of writings? Once it becomes a second nature, it's easy for us to underestimate the difficulty of developing a working knowledge of the Bible and God's plan that is revealed in it.

Part of evangelism is teaching the Bible to absolute beginners. Many of the people whom we will talk to as we try to make disciples are going to be unfamiliar with the Bible, and it's our job to be longsuffering as we instruct them in God's ways and God's word. That won't always be the case, but we should still always be ready for it.

So where do we begin? How would you present the Bible to someone who is an absolute beginner? What does a person need to know first?

Consider this general set of first ideas. They should not be considered authoritative, but simply this author's ideas of a good springboard into deeper study.

  • The Bible is telling one unified story that points to Jesus—the man through whom God will reconcile all sinful people back to himself. It contains writings in several styles, by many different authors, and from various times and places; but it all points to Jesus, the Christ.
  • God selected of one family—the family of Abraham—as the channel through which he would bring the blessings of Jesus to all people. The history of that family is told in the 
Old Testament.
  • The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—contain historical records of Jesus' lifetime on Earth. The book of Acts tells how Jesus continued his work by the Holy Spirit and through his people. All of this took place after he was resurrected and ascended into Heaven.
  • The events that are of first importance to know and believe are these: 1) Jesus died, 2) Jesus was buried, 3) Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, 4) Jesus was seen by many people after he rose from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:3-8).
  • The rest of the Bible elaborates extensively on what it means to have a relationship with God. Some of the key things are simple teachings about repentance, faith, resurrection, baptism, and eternal judgment (see Heb. 6:1-2).

As you look over that list, maybe you can think of someone who needs to hear these fundamental things. First, pray for that person, and then start planning the time and place where you can teach them. The Gospel is for all. Let's be ready to help everyone—especially the beginners.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Does God Repay Evil for Evil? No.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." (Rom 12:17)

My question when I look at that verse is this: Why are there so many rules in the Law of Moses that require the death penalty in punishment for a particular sin? Is it one of those cases where we see a different nature of God from the Old Testament to the New? ("The God of the Old Testament would repay evil for evil, but the God of the New Testament says that we should not do that.") As far as I know, that's never a valid distinction. So then how do we explain the severe payback given to so many crimes when the same God would say, "Repay no one evil for evil"?

The answer is actually fairly simple: God's law through Moses didn't repay evil or evil. It repaid justice for evil.

And that's a distinction that's important for us to know too. Because there are plenty times when it is right to repay something painful for wickedness. It’s right to punish children for their disobedience. And it is plenty right for governments to wield their power to punish evildoers (cf. Rom. 13:1-6). But these things are intending to accomplish what is objectively right. If done correctly, we are not just in pursuit of what feels right or of accomplishing personal vengeance of some kind. We are striving to uphold real, objective justice.

The warning that Paul gave to the Roman Christians is not about vengeance or "personal” justice. We, as the people of God, ought to be in pursuit of the same kind of objective truth, righteousness, and justice that defines God's good nature. At the very least, we must give some thought to it, even if our efforts toward it are imperfect. That effort to the good is what will prove to be “honorable in the sight of all” in the long run.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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