Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
Once, a young preacher was told that he shouldn’t preach the truth straight and strong. No one wanted him to tell them what was right and what was wrong. So he asked an old time preacher what to do. The old preacher responded: “Just preach Jesus, born and crucified and risen from the dead. Preach that he paid for sin with the precious blood he shed. Preach that he is Lord and Savior, King of Kings, Son of God, and Son of Man. Just preach Jesus, son, until Jesus comes again.”
I can’t attest to the literal reality of that conversation; I just heard it in the lyrics of a Southern Gospel song. But I do love the sentiment and the spiritual truth that it encapsulates.
A complete understanding of The Gospel necessarily includes many things: teaching on morality, truth about creation and the sciences and the humanities, training in wisdom, and plenty more. But at its core, The Gospel is always simple: It’s the good news of Jesus Christ. And while it takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian, God’s kingdom is built on one thing: Jesus, the Christ.
Paul wrote this to the Corinthians about a year after he’d taught them to follow Christ: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” (1 Cor. 15:1-5)
So, when you think about the elements of Christianity, remember that it’s all anchored in who Jesus is. We are the church of Jesus Christ. He’s our all in all. Just preach Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.
- Dan Lankford, minister
When making a case for the existence of God and his creating everything, we tend to default to evidence outside the Bible. So we begin—as we’ve done in this series—with premises like “design is evidence of a designer” and “morality is evidence of a moral originator.” Maybe this is because we feel that defending religious things from the Bible is circular reasoning, and so we shy away from it. But if there is sufficient evidence to the Bible’s legitimacy (which we intend to discuss in articles later this year), then its claims about God himself ought to be taken seriously. Neither its antiquity nor its obvious religious bias give us reason to disregard its claims wholesale.
And so, for this Faith-Building Friday, consider some of the many places where the Bible’s writers stated that the world was created by God. These statements, while not the whole case, are valid evidence to the truth of his existence and creative work.
- “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gn. 1.1)
- “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20.11)
- “You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.” (Nh. 9:6)
- “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (Ps. 95.3-5)
- “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jr. 32.17)
- “long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” (2 Pt. 3.5)
To be sure, there is an abundance of extra-biblical evidence to the facts of his existence and creative work. But let’s not skip the spoken truth of these things inside the Bible. The claims made there are sincere, powerful, and faith-building in their own divinely-spoken right.
- Dan Lankford
Something never comes from nothing. That’s one of the most fundamental facts about our natural world. Stuff doesn’t just pop into existence; it always comes from a source. For that reason, when we look at all the physical stuff around us, we’re compelled to ask the question: “Where did all of this come from?” Because something never comes from nothing.
That simple reality is why the old-school skeptics used to argue that our universe was eternal, that everything has always been here. Turns out that the best way to avoid the question of origin is to argue that the universe had no origin. They argued vehemently for the eternal universe, and, in some cases, even cut corners to win the argument. The reason Einstein made the rookie mistake of dividing by zero when establishing his theory of general relativity was to avoid the fact that his equation proved the universe was not eternal.
Of course, this debate was put to rest in 1919 when a man named Sir Arthur Eddington first observed that our universe was in a constant state of expansion. He found that everything in the universe was exploding outward in every direction from a central point – like shrapnel from a bomb. It was as if the entire universe had burst into existence from a single infinitesimal point of nothingness. Edwin Hubble would go on to observe the same, and because of this discovery, the scientific community would go on to accept that our universe was not eternal. That’s why the prominent atheists of our day no longer argue for an eternal universe, but that our universe originated with a “Big Bang.”
It is a verifiable scientific fact that our universe had a beginning – something did, indeed, come out of nothing.
What does that mean? It means that our world cannot be explained naturally. It means that our existence must be the result of something “supernatural” – something beyond the physical. What we see when we consider the origin of our universe is precisely what is written in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith, we understand… that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
"The Tipping Point" refers to the moment when a great number of tiny changes culminate in an overwhelming and unstoppable change. Think of it like rolling a heavy stone up a hill. You push and push that stone, tediously making progress with every step, until you finally reach the crest of the hill. Once you reach the teetering point of perfect balance, all you must do is give that stone one more nudge to send it careening down the other side. That’s your tipping point – the moment when many tiny changes lead to an enormous change.
I think faith works that way; it has a tipping point.
Establishing a firm belief in the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and the deity of Jesus does not happen in a moment. It’s not the result of hearing one cool fact or one compelling argument (even if that sounds more romantic). Instead, it’s the result of hearing a great number of arguments. True faith is engrained within our hearts when we peruse the mountain of evidence God has provided for us piece by piece until the argument is so compelling that we reach faith’s tipping point – the moment when faith becomes so irresistibly rational that it can no longer be reasonably denied. That’s even how faith works during the ministry of Jesus (John 1:50).
Faith is a tipping point kind of thing.
For that reason, Dan Lankford and I have designed a project that we hope will convict, confirm, and establish your faith. We’re calling it, “Faith-Building Fridays,” and the aim is simply to offer you one compelling piece of evidence – one reason to believe - every Friday for all of 2024. It is our prayer that through this project we can help you build your faith in the existence of God, the inspiration of the scriptures, and the deity of Jesus Christ.
Come back tomorrow for a few more introductory remarks from Dan.
- Jonathan Banning
Have you ever considered what would happen if a celebrity came to a church service here? Obviously, “celebrity” status is a relative idea nowadays because of different generations’ different levels of attachment to certain public figures. But how would we all react if whoever you think of as a famous personality attended one of these assemblies with us some Sunday? Would we be nervous about what they would think of our “unusual” ways in worship? Would we try to do all of worship activities just a little better than usual so they would see the best version of it? Would we go out of our way to dote upon them in some special way that we don’t do for the regulars?
Or would we simply welcome them into this place and let them see how things are among people who authentically worship God? Would we be comfortable doing what we typically do, knowing that when it is sincerely focused on God, it is perpetually the right thing to do?
Don't get me wrong: I’m not saying that there’s no room for specialness in what we do. On the contrary, I’m saying that we shouldn’t feel the need of any unique behaviors that focus on a guest because we understand the specialness that is always part of our assemblies as we focus on God.
Every time we come together, we bless the high and holy God who created the world and everything in it, who measures the universe with the span of his hand, and who gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. If there would be a need for increased specialness because of a human visitor, then let’s go ahead and enact that today! Because God is here with us, and the people around us are his people. We are already in the company of persons with far greater gravity than any human celebrity could dream of having.
Let’s give the very best fruit of our lips as a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15) to God for his indescribable greatness and splendor.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Should we base what our beliefs and obedience to Christian teaching on how it will work out? Is law meant to be determined by what is good for the most people? Should the laws of a country, or a household, or a religion be based on the outcomes that experience tells us will come from those laws?
It’s a matter of faith to believe that God’s laws, as written, are to be followed implicitly, whether we expect the outcomes of following them to be good, bad, or even impossible.
For example: Should we teach that faithfulness in marriage matters because it will bring stability to society (which it will)? Or because it is the will of God for his people? What is our stated reason for obedience? Faith in God regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?
For another example: Should we be generous to others because it will create bonds and close friendships between the receiver and the giver (which it will)? Or because it is the example and teaching that we have from the King of kings whom we follow? Again, what is our stated reason for obedience? Is it faith in God regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?
For yet another example: Should we deteremine if a religious practice is appropriate because we perceive how it will work out either like or unlike another religious group's practice? Or will we know because the word of God teaches its rightness or wrongness? Yet again, what is our stated reason for obedience in things like this? Is it faith in God's way regardless of the outcomes, or is it just the expected outcomes?
Let’s be clear within each of our hearts that our reasons for obedience are a matter of our faith in God. Christian faithfulness isn’t mostly motivated by a reaction against others, a societal advancement program, a self-improvement set of habits, or a road to psychological comfort. All of those things are helpful outcomes that likely follow Christian faithfulness, but our obedience to him must motivated, above all, by our sincere belief in him simply for his own sake.
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Trust is the linchpin of every relationship. If it’s there and it’s strong, then the coupling of the relationship will move freely and survive most any strain. But if it’s weak or missing entirely, the relationship will be weak, will fail, or become all-out hurtful.
In his book, Trust, Henry Cloud gives the anatomy of trust. As he sees it, it’s built through five things: 1) Understanding between both parties. Does the other party in the relationship understand me, and do I understand them? If so, we can build some trust.. 2) Knowing intent. Do I believe that the other party wants to do good, even when I disagree with their vision or their methods? If so, we can build some trust. 3) Ability of both parties. Is the other party capable of what I need or want of them? If so, then we can build some trust. 4) Character. Are they a person who embodies honesty, integrity, and humility? If so, then we can build some trust. And 5) A track record. Does the other party have a track record of trustworthiness with other things? If so, then we can build some trust.
Those ideas help me to clarify why I sense varying levels of trust between myself and certain people in my life. But more than that, they make me wonder:
Can GOD trust ME?
He has clearly given me all the reasons I could ever need to trust him. He understands me and my needs, his intents are good all the time, his being all-powerful tells me that he has all abilities, he is of pristine and holy character, and his track record of trustworthiness is as long as history itself.
But can he trust me? Does my relationship to him embody those five elements as it should? These are question that I have to reflect on and pray about today. And I hope that you will take the time to do so as well.
After Abraham had faithfully obeyed God regarding the sacrifice of his son, Isaac, God said to him, “now I know that you fear God” (Gen. 22:12). I doubt that I have the kind of relationship with God in which he could say that—that he trusts me as he knew he could trust Abraham. But that’s who I intend to be. Would you pray about that for me? And I will pray the same for all of you.
- Dan Lankford, minister
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
In the aftermath of a shooting a few years ago, one news agency played a soundbite of a victim’s mother who said, “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.”
On another occasion, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, one Christian tweeted: “When things like this happen, don’t pray. DO something.” Perhaps even more disheartening was the number of enthusiastic responses he received from other Christians.
Biblically-minded Christians are right to be saddened when we hear responses like these. We see the inconsistency in directing our hope to God and also refusing prayer. We see the inconsistency in another Christian’s thinking that prayer and action are contrasts when prayer is a most important first action in response to a tragic event. It hurts us to hear anyone—whether believer or not—belittle something so sacred and so wonderful as a prayer to the God of Heaven.
Because we know that prayer is more than a magic incantation to distance us from suffering. And we see that, even in moments of deep pain and deep outrage, rejecting prayer is not just a rejection of people who pray; it is a rejection of God to whom we pray. My hope for all of us is that we live and speak in such a way that the world becomes aware of how powerful prayer really is because they see how powerful God really is.
Far from being a simplistic distraction from one’s own pain or a heartless dismissal of someone else’s, prayer is how we approach God in our pain. It is a place to build and enjoy a relationship with God Almighty. It is—and it must always be—faithful Christians’ first and most trusted response to wickedness and suffering in this world.
- Dan Lankford, minster
“…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” (2 Peter 1:5)
In contrast to the writings of past centuries, there is much less discussion of virtue in today’s psychology and self-help literature than there used to be. The cultivation of virtues like humility, wit, diligence, patriotism, courage, moderation, justice, and piety was a chief aim of past generations’ parents, philosophers, and schools. And so it should still be among Christians.
So if you had to boil it down, what would you say is the chief virtue that Christianity should instill in us? Among many that could be listed—purity, self-control, love, diligence, patience, kindness, humility, etc—I believe that righteous love is the greatest. Love like God’s own pure, righteous, passionate, and intense love ought to be the defining characteristic of all of our relationships. Paul told the Colossians to create habits and hearts defined by compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace, and thankfulness (Col. 3:12-13, 15). And then he said, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Col. 3:14)
But from the way that many Christians talk and act, one would think that the chief virtue of Christianity is caution. We can be hindered from helping the needy by “what someone might think” if they saw us associating with them. We can be hindered from offering passionate, whole-self worship to God by “what someone might think” if they saw us exhibiting more than stoic assent in a church assembly. We can be hindered from teaching the fullness of truth about God’s grace by “what someone might think” if they hear hear that message and misunderstand its true nature.
The chief virtue—love—often tends to act in ways that are more risky than they are cautious. So, are we cultivating the virtue of love above all else? When it’s wise to exhibit both love and caution, we should do that. But when one of them must serve the other, let’s give priority to the one that most deserves it.
- Dan Lankford, minister