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The King of KindnessSaturday, February 25, 2023
Understanding the nature of God ought to be one of a Christian’s most important goals. To that end, consider this phrase from Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” This is the only place in the Bible where the phrase “throne of grace” is used, and it shows us two complimentary sides to who he is.
The fact that God sits on a throne shows his kingship. He is sovereign. He has sole reign of all that he has created. He gets to make the rules, and not only because he demands to be in charge, but simply because he IS in charge. Simply by pointing out that he is on a throne, the Holy Spirit reminds us that God will always does and always will have supreme authority in the universe.
And the fact that God’s throne is one of grace illustrates one of the balancing aspects of his kingship. He is not just a king who demands to be respected: He is a king who deserves to be respected because of his kindness and generosity. And while, under normal circumstances, a king can only be approached by certain people with the sufficient clout or power, King YHWH approaches his people. He has descended to our level with all of his infinite blessings. He does not remain aloof from his subjects. He is graciously willing to come and be close to us.
This simple phrase reminds us that our God is the perfect ruler: a truly benevolent monarch with naught but our best interests on his heart. So when we come to worship him today, let us draw near with confidence to his throne of grace!
- Dan Lankford, minister
Look OUTside YourselfWednesday, February 08, 2023
“You turn things upside down!” (Isa. 29:16)
When Isaiah wrote that, he was criticizing Israel for thing God was like the idols they worshiped. They thought that he could and would conform to human desires, and consequently, they saw themselves as the gods who define reality. They thought what was best was already inside them and that God must be conformed to that.
A modern manifestation of this same underlying mindset is the belief that most problems with humans originate outside of us. Things like societal pressures, systemic injustices, oppression, philosophical errors in education, or the oppressive teachings of religion are to blame when human beings do evil things. They believe that human individuals are actually good, but evil behaviors and thoughts have been forced upon them from outside themselves.
And consequently, the world believes that the solutions must reside within themselves. And so the usual tack is to encourage people to, “Look inside yourself. You do you. You've got to find out who you really are. Look deep into your heart to find the problems that have been imposed upon you so that you can be free to be your true, good self.” This is the prevailing mentality of so much non-religious psychological and therapeutic thought, and so it has a firm hold on our cultural thought.
But what’s the overall problem with that mentality? Plainly and simply: It’s upside-down. Just as Isaiah said.
Here’s the truth that scripture teaches: Our wickedness is actually not imposed upon us from outside; each of us chooses it. Christ said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Mt. 15:19-20) And the apostle James said, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” (Jas. 1:14-15) Together, they tell us that humanity’s problems actually originate within us. And so, since the problems are intrinsic rather than extrinsic, the solutions which we need cannot to be found by searching deeper within ourselves. In fact, we can only be transformed from our wicked ways when put the self to death and seek salvation from another. The Lord promised rest not to those who sought it within themselves, but to those who sought to receive it from him (Mt. 11:28-30). And all the way back to the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke these familiar, yet convicting, words: “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)
The world will never be my ally in rightly understanding that I am the problem and only Christ can offer the solutions which I need. But God will remind me constantly that if I really want to be transformed so that I have peace and so that I can offer peace and righteousness to others, then I must look to one supreme, outside source for those things. “It is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” It is only by God’s grace that we are made right and become the good in the world that he and we wish to be.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Faithful Reading: Diligently Seeking GodSunday, January 22, 2023
One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within that plan more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.
Diligently Seeking God is a daily devotional book. That is, it offers a short reading from Scripture and a one-page reflection on a spiritual topic that helps believers to turn our hearts more wholly toward the things of God. The author’s stated purpose is found right in the title of the book: It is to teach and motivate his readers to be diligent in our pursuits of knowing God himself. The top of each page is dated so that there is one reading for each calendar entry of the year, including February 29 if you want a bonus reading or during leap years.
Published just back in 2006, this book was written by Gary Henry, who is known by many among the Churches of Christ for his preaching and especially for his writing. In this book, he offers a very focused guide to how Christians can truly seek God. In contrast with many daily devotionals that cover 365 topics of general Christian interest, brother Henry’s book stays on track with just this one topic. January first’s reading shows how our God himself is “Our Deepest Need, Our Greatest Reward.” From there, each day’s reading sheds light on a different facet of the grand concept of knowing God as he should truly be known, such as: “Capacity for Joy,” “Longing for God,” “Our Verbiage When We Talk About God,” and “If We’re Hungry for Good.” They remind us over and over again that our need to know and love God is a greater pursuit even than our pursuit of good Christian behavior or right religious practices. Brother Henry’s daily writings remind us of the personal importance of the greatest command: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Mt. 22:36-38)
This book has been a go-to resource for me for writing blogs and articles and for teaching in Bible classes, teen studies, and sermons. And more than that, it has helped to raise my view to the grander realities of knowing God and being known by God. It’s helped me to see that important Bible teachings like the 5 steps of salvation are fundamentally based upon our love for and respect of God through Christ. And it—like the other books mentioned in the past two weeks’ articles—has helped me to see areas of my life where I’ve justified my actions instead of repenting of them, where I’ve been selfish, or deceived myself into calling sin virtue, or where I’ve been lukewarm about faith instead of being diligent in pursuit of God’s things.
I recommend this book for Christians from freshman year of college to the twilight years of life. It requires some maturity to think as the author would have us, and his guidance into the Scriptures will lead us to still greater maturity if we will allow it. You can buy the book by clicking here or access these daily devotionals online by clicking here, and I pray that it blesses you as it has blessed me.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Faithful Reading: The Screwtape LettersSunday, January 15, 2023
One thing that Christians often do not include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we sit weekly and listen to godly teachers & preachers offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors through the centuries who have opened the scriptures and faithfully expounded their meaning in some really helpful ways. So, for the Sundays in January, these articles will be making recommendations for some spiritual books that can help us to see God’s plan and our place within that plan more clearly. Read them with a discerning mind that is informed by God’s word, and be grateful for the guidance that he offers through his servants.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, is a fictional book that pulls back the curtain on the devil’s work of tempting humans, shedding light on many of the methods of temptation to which we fall prey frequently. Its teachings are portrayed via fictional letters written by a senior tempter in order to advise and mentor a younger tempter in his efforts to lead a particular human soul away from God. Each letter builds upon the ones before it and shows many of the methods of temptation that are common to man (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13).
This book’s real benefit is its insights into our oft-ungodly thought processes. The author speaks about both subtle and obvious ways that we give in to selfishness, that we deceive ourselves, or that we harbor bitterness toward others… often in ways that we are unwilling or unable to see in ourselves. He talks about our temptations with pride, with impatience and unforgiving thoughts, with intemperance, with judging others, with fear, with hypocrisy, with lust, with jealousy, with idolatry, and many more besides. He helps us see our spiritual life and relationship habits more clearly so that we can live them more in line with God’s good ways. The book was first published in 1942, so some references are made to the events of World War II and how those events may be either boons or detriments to the devil’s cause. But even if its contemporary references feel dated at times, the principles of human behavior that it teaches are far-reaching, offering insights that will help anyone who lives in the modern West.
It has been my personal experience that the teachings in this book have helped me see my temptations on the rise sooner, because I can recognize wicked patterns in my own thinking or words better than I used to. I will never claim to have become a perfect Christian, but I am thankful for the wise words and the encouragement that has guided me to be better than I used to be.
The Bible tells us that our adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Mr. Lewis’ insights into the human mind and our battle with temptation can make us more aware of the lion’s moment-by-moment presence around us and the manifest deceptions that he often uses against us to interrupt our wholehearted devotion to God. Keeping in mind that it is a fiction work, I believe that it can serve as a helpful tool to almost any saint who wishes to achieve greater purity of mind, heart, and action.
Hopefully, your motivation to seek greater discipleship in this new year has not waned in the slightest, and you’re still actively pursuing a deeper relationship with God. And it’s my prayer that this book or some other faithful one will be helpful to you in attaining that end.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Click here to see last Sunday's similar review of The Pilgrim's Progress.
Is a thing worth more when it's given or earned?Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Not long ago, I found myself in a good-natured argument with a friend at work about whether it's more noble for respect to be given automatically when we meet someone or whether it's something that has to be earned before it's received. Here's the question that she asked next: "Is a thing worth more when it's given or when it’s earned?”
That question fascinated me from the moment that she asked it. And as I've thought about it, I think the answer is: it depends. Some things are worth more when they're earned, but many things can only be had as gifts—they simply can't be earned. And the worth of many of those things is estimably greater.
So back to the original discussion subject: Is respect worth more when it's given or when it's earned? And I think the answer in that case is that it's worth a great deal when it's given... but the earning process has the potential to make it worth even more.
But if we lift our eyes to grander concepts—things that pertain to eternal salvation—then we must acknowledge that their inestimable value is in the fact that they must always and only be gifts. Neither the grace of God nor an entry into Heaven can ever be earned by those who receive them. The same is true with God's gift of his son, Jesus: It was not because of our goodness that Christ came to earth, but because of God's good will. And so it is with the greatest gift: the gift of life itself. Nothing in all creation has ever earned life; it has always been a gift from God. Perhaps the process of earning a good life has the potential to make the gift worth even more, but it is a gift no matter how much we may devote ourselves to earning it.
Through life’s trials and struggles, we may gather many eternal treasures. But when we lay them down at the feet of our Lord, we will receive a gift from him that is far greater and inestimably more valuable than the gifts that we may give him. What we earn along the way will pale in comparison with the gift that we will receive when we have finished the course and kept the faith.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Seein' My Father In MeWednesday, December 14, 2022
In 1990, country artist Paul Overstreet wrote and recorded his song, "Seein' My Father In Me." If you're a fan of sentimental 90's country music, you should give it a listen. If not, at least take a few moments to read the lyrics:
Last night we brought the children by to visit their grandpa
And it's plain to see they're truly part of him
While we were there
Their Grandma took out some old photographs
Man, he sure looked a lot like me back then
I'm seein' my father in me
I guess that's how it's meant to be
And I find I'm more and more like him each day
I notice I walk the way he walks
I notice I talk the way he talks
I'm startin' to see my father in me
A lot of us realize as the years go by that we are unconsciously taking on characteristics of our parents. All the things that Overstreet talks about just sort of happen to us as we live longer and collect more memories in life. But wouldn't it be all the more wonderful if an honest look at our lives—whether from ourselves or from outsiders—revealed that we were also taking on characteristics and behaviors of our heavenly Father?
There is a key difference between how we mirror our parents and how we imitate God's nature: We are far less prone to assume God's characteristics unconsciously. It must be a series of choices; an ongoing, purposeful effort to cultivate hearts after his own heart. The idiom that says someone is "the spitting image of your father" is said by some to be derived from saying, "You are the spirit and image of your father." Would that our lives were truly like that—that we embody the spirit and image of our Father in heaven.
How are you doing with that? What would your life actually be like if you were deliberately, continually increasing in your likeness to God's own holy nature? What differences would people see in you? How would your calendar or your budget look different? How different would your words be if you talked the way he talks? How would your relationships be improved if you walked the way he walks? What efforts can you make today to be transformed more completely into his image?
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another..." (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Maybe We Need to Pray BiggerSunday, December 11, 2022
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
A Christian response to mass shooting in our own back yardMonday, 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 CaliforniaThursday, 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.