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Click here to read archived articles by our former preacher, Jared Hagan.
"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
You can't cheat consistency. Whether it's in developing a new skill, learning a language, getting stronger and fitter, or building a long-term meaningful relationship with someone; there are is not substitute for consistent training & routine practice.
The same is true of discipleship. You can't create spiritual strength, learn to skillfully handle the word of God, or develop a rich long-term relationship with him without some consistent habits. And there are two habits that rise to the top for their usefulness: Prayer and Bible reading.
I know that preachers seem to harp on these two spiritual disciplines a lot, and many believers become frustrated with the repetition of these simple admonitions. But there's a reason for the repeated encouragement: these habits work. And it is this author's belief that the reason why many believers become frustrated with it is because they are looking for a cheat—some way to circumvent the consistency that is required for these habits to really achieve their greatest effect. The complaint almost never comes from saints who already have consistent habits of prayer and Bible reading. In fact, they are typically all the more enthusiastic in encouraging others to take up these same routines, because their lives and their faith are a testament to the effectiveness of consistent reading and prayer.
So don't discount the power of these simple activities. Make a point of practicing them daily; consistently. And let God's Spirit do his work in you. God may use additional channels to give increase to your faith as well, but if you want to purposefully cultivate spiritual growth in yourself, remember: You can't cheat consistency.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"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
Here's an article that I wrote several years ago (it first appeared here). I'm sharing it again as a message that's perpetually helpful and serves as a follow-up to Sunday's message here at our church.
In the 1920’s, a British publishing group called “The Thinker’s Library” produced a number of essays and magazines supporting two ideas. Firstly, they entirely backed Charles Darwin’s theories of macro evolution. Simultaneously, many of the same writers spoke of the racial supremacy of Western Culture and Westerners because we were supposed to be “more evolved” than other cultures. Those ideas of racial superiority fed the Holocaust mentality, even though there was no real science to back them up. The views were bogus and harmful to humanity in the long run, even though they were held by the prevailing intellectuals of the day.
One modern writer recently pointed out that those atheistic philosophies aimed to show that the secular West is the model for a universal civilization, and atheism is doing something similar today. They are simply using different vehicles. Where the ideas of evolutionary secularism used to give cause for extolling the sins of racial prejudice and mass murder, the same ideas are used today to extoll the sins of homosexual behavior and many other perversions of the God-ordained family order.
What does it mean for Christians? Among many other things, it means that Christianity is not dying! It means that God is alive, and so is the faith! While the philosophies of the world come and go, Christianity continues to stand on the same principles upon which it was founded. Where other religions—Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam—morph over time because they must necessarily adjust their core values to the needs of their people, Christianity continues to change people because we must necessarily conform to the core values of holiness.
It is important that Christians realize this. As the world’s voices grow louder and more adamant that secular, human-focused thought is the only right way to live, Christians may stand with a quiet confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Gamaliel, a Jewish rabbi in the time of Paul, once spoke up for the apostles. Their lives were being threatened for teaching about Jesus. And while he might have been on the wrong side of understanding the situation, he wisely gave this prophecy about Christianity: “…if this plan is the undertaking of man, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrown them. You might even be found to be opposing God!” (Acts 5:38-39, ESV).
Have no fear, brothers and sisters! Our God cannot be overthrown by mankind! No worldly philosophies, no Supreme Court rulings, and no level of immorality on TV can stop the power of the risen Savior! People may leave the Lord, but the Lord will not leave his people. Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his plan. Let us view the world’s attacks with the confidence that for all the changes of life, God is alive! And so is the faith!
- Dan Lankford, minister
How big is the ideal church?
Have you ever debated that question with a friend? Have you ever considered it yourself? There are two schools of thought that I've heard a lot: 1) A big church is better because you have more people who can get more stuff done and help each other better, or 2) A small church is better because everyone knows everyone else. So which is better? Biblically, there's no answer given. And as I read through the book of Acts, I think I know why God's Spirit is not concerned much with big churches vs. small churches.
Because the Lord is concerned that his churches are growing.
As you look at the book of Acts, there are a few times when church membership numbers are given (Acts 2:41, 4:4). But in searching for those, you'll find plenty more references to how much the disciples were growing. They grew in number, they increased in boldness, they bolstered their fellowship with each other, they expanded their generosity, they pushed out the borders of their influence, and they enhanced their reputation in the community. They were growing in so many positive ways.
Growth is an indicator of healthy churches in all of time. Now please don't misunderstand: all growth requires change, but not all change is growth (we'll discuss that more in future writings). But churches that are not growing are stagnant or in decline. On the other hand, when a church's leaders and members are filled with God's Spirit and following his word, we are bound to be growing in him, and that will always be reflected in our numbers, our fellowship, our influence, our generosity, and our evangelism.
So I pray that each of us has a mindset that we want to foster an environment of growth in this church family. I pray that we all see the glory which that brings to God when his people are growing up into his image. And I pray that whether we are a small church or big church, we will always be a growing church as we worship and serve him.
- Dan Lankford, minister
"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. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD'S house. 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, saying, 'For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.'" (2 Chronicles 7:1-3, ESV)
I love that passage. It brings Israel an assurance that God's presence was among them and with them. In a way that noone living on that day could have ever witnessed before, God's presence physically appeared before them like he had done during the time of the Exodus. They saw and understood the glory of God, and they responded just like they should have: with worship.
Worship is all too easy to undervalue or to distort from its authentic purpose. It's too easy to lose sight of Who it's for and what its purpose is. It's easy to think that if we were present at a spectacle like the one from 2 Chronicles, then we would worhsip with minds and hearts lifted to a higher plane of spirituality.
But where is our faith when we think that way? Do we believe that God is with us when our churches assemble? Do we trust, even if we can't see it, that his people are his temple and that his temple is filled with his glory? Do we properly consider that he has chosen us from among all the nations and made us a people of his own special possession? Do we worship him authentically, even when there's no spectacle or when it feels like "there's nothing special going on"?
The people's words of worship in 2 Chronicles 7 are interesting. Because it's not that they respond to the fire and glory of YHWH by saying, "He is powerful and we are amazed at this incredible experience!" They understood that it isn't a spectacle that makes God great and worthy of worship; it's that "he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever." If that was why they worshiped him, then how much more should we proclaim his glory with passion and truth when we have seen his glory and goodness through the gift of his son?
- Dan Lankford, minister