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Do you ever feel lost in life, unsure what value you have or what your purpose is? I suppose that most people go through some level of that thought process at some point. When we do, we have a tendency to think that the solution is to increase self-esteem; to look inside ourselves for ways to think more highly of ourselves.
But the solution to those crippling feelings isn’t inside of ourselves (cf. Jer. 10:23). In fact, the more we turn our thoughts inward, the more powerful those negative feelings tend to become. We need listen upward to what God has spoken about who we are and what our value is.
If you’re struggling with such thoughts, consider a few things that God says about all people:
- You are made special in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26, Ps. 139:13).
- Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:29-31) That means that God values YOU!
- Remember that God values you enough that Christ was sent to offer redemption and salvation for you.
- We are made special and called to a special purpose, and if we believe that, we’ll find ourselves living more purposeful, more assured, more giving, more satisfied, and more joyful lives.
We often think that the solution to negativity is to look deeper within and manufacture more positive feelings. But the reality is that God has already spoken life-giving truth about who we are. The question is: Do we really believe him?
- Dan Lankford, minister
Two Sundays ago, we talked about parenting. This past Sunday, we talked about leadership and shepherding. I believe that the two topics fit together seamlessly: As parents, it’s our job to shepherd our children into the fold of the good shepherd. Obviously, that’s a big concept that could be talked about in a myriad of ways, but for today, just consider this one aspect of shepherd-parenting: Setting and enforcing boundaries for our sheep is a way to protect them.
It’s not often in vogue to talk about the boundaries that we set for our kids, but there are eternal reasons that Christians understand as to why we must do that. First, because the boundaries that we teach them will, over the course of time, contribute to the character that defines them. And second, because proper boundaries keep them safe. Like a fence installed near a tall cliff, properly policing our kids’ activities keeps them from wandering into territory where they’ll suffer spiritual (and psychological) wounds that simply could have been avoided.
One way to do this: Christian parents need to be particularly mindful of our kids’ digital intake. What apps do they use? Who do they contact? What do they send and see and hear? What sort of messages—good or bad—are they getting on a regular basis? Parents, we would do well to either 1) set up digital boundaries that fully prevent them from access to much of the internet world, or 2) regularly check for ourselves what they are seeing and hearing. There are plenty of reasons for all of this, both from the realm of psychology and from the realm of spirituality (again, I offer the same Biblical advice from this past Sunday: “Know well the condition of your flocks” [Prov. 27:23]). And if we don’t know how to do these things with the technology that our children own, then we’d better learn or get the help of someone who does know. There is too much at stake for our kids to not invest in protecting them.
I know that many of you already do things like this, and I applaud you for it, because even if our kids resent us for a time because of the decisions we’ve made for them, we know (and God knows) that it’s the right thing to do. Each godly mom and dad will have to use some wisdom to know exactly how we will protect and guide our kids through these issues (so be sure to have some grace with other parents who make different judgment calls than you do), but godly wisdom dictates that some boundaries must be set and enforced. It’s a matter of disciplining them into being disciples of the Lord. “For [our parents] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Heb 12:10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
A recent report by the Pew Research Center, who study all sorts of trends connected to faith and religion, noted the following: “About a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 says it’s extremely or very important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults… But attitudes on this question vary by the religious affiliation of the parents. White evangelical Protestant parents are twice as likely as U.S. parents overall (70% vs. 35%) to say it’s extremely or very important that their children grow up to have religious beliefs that are similar to their own. Some 53% of Black Protestant parents also express this view.” The report continues: “Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%). Overall, parents are more likely to say it’s important that their children share their religious beliefs as adults than to say the same about their kids’ political views.”
Several things came to mind when I read the report. Here are just a few observations:
First, the data isn’t very surprising in many ways. Regardless of black or white, it’s not surprising that those who are regular church-goers care deeply about sharing their faith with their kids. If anything, it’s surprising that the percentages aren’t actually higher, because those who regularly attend Christian church services are, in the main, the ones who believe that the teachings of Christianity are truth. And if we believe that these things are true, then we necessarily must believe in the need to share them with our kids. If we believe that Jesus is the singular way, truth, and life (John 14:6), then we will want to share the good news about him with everyone and see all people come to follow him… especially those of our own household!
Second, I occasionally hear Christians say things like, “The faith isn’t hereditary. Each generation must have their own faith.” And while I understand the sentiment behind that, a report like the one from Pew should probably increase our awareness of the fact that the Bible does intend for faith to be hereditary in some sense. Yes, each person must come to a point of maturity where they take ownership of their faith, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater in saying that “Christian faith isn’t hereditary.” Because each generation is also supposed to teach the faith to the next generation. That was explicitly stated in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-9), and there are plenty of examples or allusions to the same thing happening among Christians in the New Testament (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). Our faith is supposed to be a gift from one generation to the next, and so it is “hereditary” in that sense, and we should be diligent to make it so.
Third, let’s make sure that we each establish a conviction in our hearts as to whether our religious practices are simply a matter of preference (“I believe in this religion, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like they have to believe it, and I wouldn’t want to pressure my kids into thinking they have to believe it just because I do.”), or if it’s a matter of conviction (“I believe that Christianity’s teachings are the will of God that he spoke thru his servants and that he verified by raising Jesus from the dead. They aren’t just ‘my personal beliefs…’ They are truth.”). Our kids will know the difference when they see it work its way out in our lives. And more than that, the Lord will know the difference, because he knows what’s in our hearts.
I hope these ideas are helpful in your thinking as a supplement to Sunday’s sermon about parenting, and I hope that in our individual hearts and in our families, all of us are growing more and more into the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
- Dan Lankford, minister
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.
Do Hard Things, a book written by teenage believers and for teenage believers, deliberately breaks the mold of books that expect teenagers to do things that are morally wrong and to accomplish few things of consequence. In fact, that is one of its stated purposes: to energize teenagers’ own expectations for themselves, and to instill a drive within its readers that makes them yearn for maturity. It bluntly teaches teenagers that some things in life are hard, and rather than avoiding the hard things, we should move toward them and want to do them.
The authors, who were teenagers at the time of publishing, highlight five types of hard things that each person needs to own—that is, don’t wait for someone else to get you to do them; you make the decision to do things like this.
- Things that take you outside your comfort zone. It’s important to do things that don’t come easily or naturally. We’re often tempted to think that a feeling of fear about something means we can’t do it. But think about Moses, who believed that he had no public speaking talent, and yet God chose him to speak one of history’s greatest messages of freedom. So you too, plan to do some hard things that take you out of your comfort zone.
- Things that go beyond what’s expected. Don’t just finish the paper—do the research and write something great. Don’t do the bare minimum at the job—be early and be the best. Why not your best? And why not your best all the time?
- Things that are too big for you to do alone. Is there some good and faithful growth that you can effect in your community, your school, or your church? Maybe you can’t accomplish it by yourself, but you can be the spark that ignites a fire in others and your combined efforts will see something great done to give glory to God.
- Small things that don’t pay off immediately. Things like making your bed, working out, reaching out to someone who is sick, and doing the mundane, regular activities of life with excellence. They’re tough because they’re monotonous, but they’re worth doing, and they’re worth doing right. It’s the small efforts of discipline like those that make us ready for the grander and even harder things of life.
- Things that go against the crowd. Out of all of these, this one may be the most Bible-based idea, because Christians—and especially young Christians—are called to stand against the tide of the world and resist its influence. And it’s no secret that it’s hard to do that sometimes. So the question is: Can you do it, even when it’s really, really hard?
Overall, this book is about one thing: responsibility. The authors tell many true stories to illustrate their points and make the read enjoyable, but they never lose sight of their one main goal: to remind you to do own the responsibility of doing what’s right and good in your life, even when that means doing some really hard things.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)
"I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim. 1:5)
Moms and dads, by default, we will be the most influential figures in the lives of our children. That doesn't mean that they will always follow our prescribed paths for them, but it does mean that we—by divine appointment—have an outsized influence upon their thinking, their habits, their words, and their life story. And because that's true, we have a responsibility to be deliberate with that influence. The instruction to fathers and the example for mothers that are quoted above remind us of the simple truth that those who believe in Christ have a God-given commission to teach our faith to our children.
So, here are a few pieces of advice in that regard.
1) Don't abdicate your responsibility to the school, to the internet, or even to the church. They may be valuable supplements to their lives, but non of those are a substitute for godly parenting—not even good things like Bible classes or involvement with other young Christians. No matter who instructs them, you must choose to be their most present and most well-connected teacher. Guide them into a love for God's word, guide them into a commitment to excellence in all that they do, show them the importance of selflessness and humility in relationships, and instruct them in truth so that they readily recognize and repudiate falsehood.
2) We need to be aware of trends in the world. Because the world is often not shy about their desire to interrupt the influence that parents have on kids, particularly for Christians who actually hold Biblical teachings with conviction. (Here's one piece of evidence to back up that claim.) So just be aware. Listen to the educational philosophy of their schools and to new rules and policies that are put into place. Paranoia is very seldom helpful, but alertness is always good. “Be sober-minded; be watchful.” (1 Pet. 5:8) So let's pay close attention and make sure that we can maintain our God-given charge to be the primary influences that they need.
Ultimately, this is about us doing our dead-level best to bring up children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord. That's a project of epic proportions that God has given to us, and so we'd better be devoted and prayerful without ceasing if we're going to get it right.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Living for Jesus requires a constant pursuit of greater spiritual maturity. It’s a prospect that can be simultaneously encouraging and daunting to think about. It’s daunting to think that even with a lifetime of growth, we will never achieve perfect spiritual maturity. But it’s also encouraging to know that we will always have a goal toward which we can press forward. Even the apostle Paul said: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way...” (Phil. 3:13-15)
So how do we keep attaining spiritual growth? Many answers could be given, but the four-step process listed below is an exceedingly simple method whose effectiveness has been proven again and again:
- READ — Read the Bible. Read faithful books about God’s things. Read righteous blogs, articles, and essays. Fill your mind with God’s things.
- THINK — Ponder what you read from God’s word. Consider its teachings about God, its literary value, and its practical significance for your life.
- PRAY — Pray for God’s power to work through you as you seek to live a more faithful life as one of Jesus’ followers. Depend on his power.
- DO — Remember James’ warning: “Do not only hear God’s word, do what it says” (Jas. 1:22, paraphrased). Get busy living out what you have learned and prayed about.
By God’s grace, we each have unknown potential as a Christian. Let us continually strain forward to the greater spiritual maturity that lies ahead.
- Dan Lankford, minister
(originally published at www.eastlandchristians.org, Mar. 2020)
"As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple... When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD." (2 Chron. 7:1, 3)
It was the grand opening of the Temple—a place for God's people to approach his presence for forgiveness and worship. What a day! There were big crowds, the excitement of new things, festivities and feasts, great speeches and important teachings... and then God's presence was actually seen among them! It must have been an intense moment of spiritual excitement for them; one that they went home from with rich feelings of devotion and passion for their God.
I have had moments like those in my life, and many other Christians have too. As believers, we love the times when our spirits are reinvigorated and we feel a renewed sense of urgency about serving God. They are times when our passion for faithfulness swells to new levels, and we ought to thank him for those times. They are a joy and a privilege; a blessing given by God, often just at the moment when we need it most. Those moments are a gift for which we should be grateful!
Right on the heels of all of that, it's wise for us to think and answer this question: When the high-intensity feelings are gone, how will we continue to walk with God in the more mundane elements of daily life? This question deserves an answer because newness wears off of everything, crowds eventually go home, and normal life eventually has to resume its daily course. So when all of that happens and spiritual life is back to being normal life, will we still exhibit the same faithfulness to God?
High points and daily routines both have their rightful place in Christian life, as long as handle them faithfully. The spiritual highs remind us of the scale and splendor of God's power and they draw us toward him. And daily, 'normal' devotion gives us the ability to enjoy those high points without depending on them. It's the ability to balance both of these elements of Christian life that helps us live the fullest Christian experience.
So, if you're in a season of life where you're experiencing awe and excitement in Christ, enjoy it. Maybe you're learning the truth for the first time, maybe you're building brand new relationships, or maybe you're getting great spiritual experiences like Bible college or camp that rejuvenate your spirit. If so, enjoy them and thank God for them! And if you're in a season of life where you're putting in the daily work of discipleship, keep at it. Keep seeking him, keep growing, and keep following Jesus ever more closely.
- Dan Lankford, minister