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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Christianity Beyond Our Culture

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

In the decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century, Western believers of all types felt a strong urge to teach the gospel all over the world. Mission organizations sprang up, congregations commissioned members to go overseas and plant churches, and religious colleges poured vast amounts of energy and funding into training missionaries.

And throughout that era, many hymns were written give voice to Christians’ passion for turning the world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). Many of these hymns are still sung among Churches of Christ. A few examples: The Gospel Is For All (1921), Bringing In The Sheaves (1874), If Jesus Goes With Me (1908), and Send the Light (1890). The last one in that list has a meaningful connection to the apostle Paul’s calling to bring the gospel to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:6-10). Coupling the account from Acts with the lyrics of the hymn reminds us that the world needs help. ALL people—both near and far—need the gospel because we need God to save us from our sins.

This weekend, we’re going to hear our brother Dennis tell how our Christian family members in Brazil are living out their mission to share the truth of the Word in their country. As we listen to presentations like these, we would do well to think about more than just the cultural differences that we will inevitably notice between our lives and theirs. We sometimes tend toward thinking that our fellow saints live lesser lives if they live in poverty or if their cultural norms are different than ours. But we need to remember that the richness of faith in Christ is not determined by any level of wealth, education, comfort, or modernization. The Gospel didn’t come first among American culture, and there are plenty of people who are living it out richly (in many cases, more richly than we are) in their own varied cultures around the world today. We need to remember that the higher realities of salvation, fellowship, and holiness are true beyond the scope of time and place and culture. On Saturday, we’ll be hearing about people who are our brothers & sisters—people who share our faith. And we will do well to be grateful for [and often to learn from] their example of love for our Lord and faithfulness to him.

Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries that they will continue to grow and thrive in their faith. Let’s pray the same things for us. And let’s be sure to think with the higher ideals of Christians as we do that. We’re looking forward to hearing about the Christian mission to share the Gospel of Christ in Brazil, and it’s my prayer that we are aware of how powerfully God works when his people send the light.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The King of Kindness

Saturday, 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

Fierce & Gentle

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

When Jesus sent out his apostles to teach the lost sheep of the house of Israel, he gave the admonition quoted above, and it’s a very provocative way to make the point. Snakes have a fierceness about them that manifests in their ability to get into tight spots and exploit the weaknesses of their prey. More than just ruthless hunters, they’re very clever. But on the other side of the coin you have doves, who do no harm to anything or anyone. It’s a wonderful ideal for Jesus’ apostles: a group of men, delivering a message that would reshape the world, and doing it with both the unassailability of truth and the sincerity of truly caring for the eternal condition of others.

How do we engage the world like with that same balanced approach? How can we “tear down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4) and also become “all things to all men” so that we might save them (1 Cor. 9:22)?

It starts with speaking the truth. In the modern world, this is where most believers go wrong. We are often gentle as doves, but not wise enough to tell people the hard truths they need to hear. We must be willing to say, “That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that. You can’t be saved or find true joy in anything other than Jesus.” And then, once we’ve learned to speak the truth, we can start mastering the art of dove-like gentleness. And if we do that, then people will hear and they will turn toward Christ, just as when they heard his apostles teach.

When we can put those two ideals together, we’ll not only convict the world of their sin—we’ll turn their hearts toward the God who will save them.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Let's Just Be Christians

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’” (Acts 10:26)

An astonishing aspect to the spread of Christianity is the lack of notoriety sought by the apostles. When Peter had an opportunity to receive veneration by new Gentile converts, he refuses it. Paul and Barnabas likewise exhibited this aversion to worship and honor. The Gentiles were prepared to treat them like gods, and they had the humility and sincerity to reject the offer and weep at the confusion of the Gentiles (see Acts 14:12-15).

Unlike almost every other religious movement in the history of the world, the leaders of the early church clothed themselves with humility and equality to those who they were teaching and leading. How did Christianity spread? It spread by honest, servant-hearted leaders who sought to conform themselves to Christ’s character. No efforts to venerate themselves or get their way—Christians put Jesus on a pedestal, and all of us gathered as one at His feet.

Tired of religious corruption and scandals? Me too.

Let’s just be Christians.

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6)

- Scott Beyer. Minister for Eastland Church of Christ in Louisville, KY. Shared with permission.

Pray for Turkey & Syria

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Tragedies—especially natural disasters—seem to strike with some regularity across the globe. Volcanoes, landslides, tornadoes, and hurricanes all remind us how small and weak we are in the face of such forces. But even with that being the case, it is pretty rare that something brings about so much loss of life as the countries of Turkey and Syria have experienced this past week.

In the wake of a truly massive earthquake, the death toll is now at 36,000, and it continues to rise. Security camera footage and aerial surveys show the complete destruction of many apartment buildings—buildings whose collapse would surely mean the deaths of hundreds of people each. It staggers the mind to think of how many people are grieving the loss or serious injury of loved ones this week because so many lives were suddenly snuffed out.

The Christian outlook on these things ought to include several things:

  • First, we’re reminded that we live in a world that is broken by sin, and the consequences of that brokenness are both enormous and very sad. We pray for the day when God’s redemption will bring about total freedom from the fear of death that looms over us.
  • Second, we’re reminded that people are the same everywhere, and all need sincere compassion. The grief that we would experience under such soul-wrenching circumstances is what thousands upon thousands are experiencing in Syria and Turkey right now. We need to be willing to open our hearts to experience pain sympathetically with them, and we need to pray for them as they process and live with their grief. We would also do well to continue to pray for those in a similar region of the world whose homes continue to be devastated by war; the fighting between Russia & Ukraine continues to drag on, and there are many victims of that destruction for whom we should also pray.
  • Third, we’re reminded that our lives are just mists that appear for a little while and then vanish (Jas. 4:14), and so we need to learn the lesson from all of Jesus’ examples in Matthew 25 (the virgins whose lamps ran out of oil, the men with three amounts of talents, etc). Namely, we need to be soberly aware that any day could be our last, and so we must be prepared for the Lord’s return. Maybe that’s a heavy realization to carry every day, but it’s a powerful motivator to help us do the right thing each day.

Events like last week’s earthquake should have a sobering effect on us. They should increase our consciousness of our own mortality and remind us that our daily choices matter a great deal. How will we live for Christ? How will we care about others? How will we be prepared today for his return or for our own death? 

- Dan Lankford, minister

Comprehensive Preaching

Sunday, February 12, 2023

“How do you come up with fresh sermons week after week?” “How do you decide what to speak on?” “Is there some sort of template or guideline for what subjects or passages to preach about?”

It’s kind of surprising how often churchgoers ask questions like those to their preachers. I think part of the reason is that they’re just curious about the nature of the job. But for those who really think about it, there’s an opportunity for deep spiritual thinking in that question.

The content of gospel preaching matters a great deal, because our job is to accurately represent God’s will for humanity. Sometimes, that requires sermons that are more evangelistic—helping people get saved. At other times, churchgoers need to hear messages that help them live faithfully and make good moral choices as Christians. Other times, it’s got to be about eternal truths that transcend daily life and transcend time itself—things like the nature of God and the supreme importance of truth in reality. So how do you do it all?

The complexity of it means that there ought to be vision and forethought and prayer as these things are being planned. But the simplicity of it lies in 1) always drawing from the infinite well of wisdom in God’s word, and 2) trusting God to use our efforts to bring him glory.

Paul was diligent to present “the whole counsel of God” during his ministry at Ephesus, and we ought to do the same whenever possible. God’s plan is both deep and wide, and as his people, we ought to be continually drawing nearer to a comprehensive understanding of the whole Gospel.

- Dan Lankford, minister 

 

*This essay was published in our Sunday Family Report as accompaniment to the sermon: "How To Get Saved." That message talks about the Biblical idea of "faith" in similar terms [i.e. "comprehensive"] to how this article talks about preaching.

Look OUTside Yourself

Wednesday, 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

Excellence In Worship, from the Temple to the Pews

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Everything that we do for God should be done with excellence.

I have been reminded of this recently in studying about Israel's priests. God's commandments for them set a lofty precedent. The way they behaved, the way they taught the law, and particularly the way that they served in worship were all supposed to be of the highest level of moral and practical excellence. When they did not give their best, God condemned them strongly (cf. Mal. 1:6-14).

This is an easy lesson for us to learn from God's instructions for the priests: If he wanted excellence in worship from them, then he surely wants the same from us. So put thought effort into what you do in worship. If you will lead in a service, think deliberately about what job you will do, why you are doing it, and how you can do it best. Pray for God to help give you the right heart and the right abilities to glorify him. Learn from those who do things well, and imitate their skills. Above all, come with a mind set on rendering the quality of service which God deserves.

And even if you are not leading in worship, plan to give your best to God. Sing well, pray sincerely, eat his Supper with joyful gratitude, and have his word on your heart so that you can engage with it even more in Bible class. There are myriad ways that we can improve on our service to him. As he expected excellence from the priests who stood in his presence, we should serve with excellence as we stand in his presence every time we worship him.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faithful Reading for Teens: Do Hard Things

Sunday, January 29, 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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Click here to get it in paperback, or click here to get it on Kindle.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Parenting. Let's Do It, & Do It Right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

"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

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