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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Faithful Reading: Diligently Seeking God

Sunday, 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.

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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

Better Before Bigger

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

All of the company’s senior executives were at the board room table, and they were discussing how they could outpace the growth of a competitor. The competitor had surged into their industry and was expanding rapidly, opening multiple new locations every month and on trend to vastly out-sell them. And so the board members were intent on growing bigger before their competitor could. Until the CEO spoke up. Having sat quietly at the far end of the room for awhile, he started banging his fist on the table until he had everyone’s attention, and then he said simply, “I don’t want to hear about how to make this company bigger. I want us to talk about how to make it better. If we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.

The wisdom in that simple statement is profound, and it applies in some way to every human enterprise, whether we have customers or not. And it’s true of a church too. If we continually try to make it better, it will bet bigger. If our Bible classes offer rich insights into the Word and relevant guidance for life, people will see the value in that and come to hear it. If our group worship leads them to open their hearts individually to powerfully perceive God’s glory, they will see the value in that and come to experience it. If our preaching enlivens people’s minds and invigorates their hearts to want to serve God better, they will understand the value of that and come to hear it. If our fellowship demonstrates the power and joy of relationships, outreach, generosity, and brotherly love; they will perceive the value of that and engage with it too.

That’s why church growth is always primarily about spiritual growth. It’s about us continually getting better at what we do to serve God, and a group that does that will inevitably grow. It worked that way in the first century, and I believe that it still will today.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faithful Reading: The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, 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.

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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.

A Checklist for Sundays

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Checklists help pilots safely run takeoffs and landings, they help wedding planners see to every detail of their events, and they help tax pros cross every t and dot every i on our returns so that we don’t have to pay any more than is absolutely necessary. They just help us to make sure that we are completely engaged with what we’re doing; ideally preventing us from missing an important component of an important activity.

So, here’s a checklist to help us with Sundays. Here are a few reminders that can help us make the most of this important part of life.

Before church time:

  • Pray. Pray for God to help us truly worship and truly learn.
  • Read. Open your mind and your Bible to hear God speak. Look ahead at Bible class materials and be ready to participate in classes (and make sure your kids do so too).
  • Give. Purpose ahead of time how much you will give to the work, remembering what it’s for: Helping needy saints and supporting the eternally important work of preaching.

At a service:

  • Introduce yourself to a new member or a guest.
  • Encourage someone who led part of the worship service.
  • Talk to a kid or a senior saint who might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Encourage an elder and/or a deacon.
  • Invite someone to share a meal with you — either at your house or out at a restaurant.
  • Look at the lobby board and find a way that you can volunteer or help.

Imagine if we all did these things every Sunday. How would our relationships with each other and our love for God be better?

Let’s find out :)

- Dan Lankford, minister. Special thanks to my wife, Kaitlin, for providing the main idea of this post.

Faithful Reading: The Pilgrim's Progress

Sunday, January 08, 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 at 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 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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The Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in the year 1678, is an allegory that sheds light on the manifest highs and lows of Christian living. It follows a man whose very name is Christian as he leaves his home—“The City of Destruction”—and journeys through many places and meets many people who either help or hinder him on his way to his final destination: “The Celestial City,” situated on Mount Zion. Christian’s journey (and the later one of his wife, Christiana) mirror the paths which so many saints have walked over the last 20 centuries.

Why, you might ask, would such an old book be worth reading in today’s world? What benefit does it have for us? Here’s why:

  • First, because someone has well said, “If you want new ideas, read old books. And if you want old ideas, read new books.” Classic perspectives and teachings have often been so neglected by modern thinkers that they ring with fresh insight, though they are hundreds or even thousands of years old (see Eccl. 2:16). 
  • Second, because even if the style of writing feels older (and trust me: in The Pilgrim’s Progress, it does), human nature changes very little as generations pass, and so Bunyan’s perspective on the Christian life are evergreen—applicable to every generation. 
  • Third, because the writer speaks with the vocabulary of scripture, often putting direct quotes of holy writ into his characters’ conversations. He reminds us that our experiences as believers are common to mankind, that God helps us mightily, and that the rewards of faithfulness are inexpressibly good.

You can get modern paraphrases or read it in the original Shakespearean-era English. The book has been helpful to me in both ways as it’s given voice to my own struggles of faith and helped me to articulate encouragement to others. I recommend it for Christians from nineteen years old to ninety-nine years old as it helps us see ourselves rightly as pilgrims who travel through this barren land of earthly life, making progress toward that golden strand—our heavenly home in the presence of God. I hope you’ll read it and be blessed by it as so many others have been through the last four and a half centuries.

Follow the links to the right to get your copy and start reading today. And look for more book recommendations that will help us grow in our faith in the next few weeks’ Family Reports.

- Dan Lankford, minister

New Year's Goal: Be Content But Not Complacent

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

It's a new year, and the advice is flying. Some columns, bloggers, and TV personalities tell us, "This is the year to revolutionize your life! Time to change everything!" Others say, "Start small. Just adjust something little and don't try to do everything all at once." And still others will insist, "If you want to change something in your life, just change it no matter what time of year it is. New Year's resolutions always fail." In the flurry of advice, it can be disorienting and discouraging to determine which perspectives are worth believing and following.

Can I offer a little bit of balance to that whole thing?

First, Christians should remember that growth is a part of who we are. Until we attain perfection like Christ's, we will have room to grow. Even the apostle Paul, as he talked about Jesus' resurrection and perfection, said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But 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." (Phil. 3:12-14) Even he recognized there was room in his life for spiritual growth.

Second, Christians are called to peace and joy and contentment; not fear and discouragement and anxiety (Phil. 4:4-7). So how do we cultivate an internal drive toward growth while not letting that outlook roil up our anxiety about goal-setting and accomplishment? Answer: We learn to be content without becoming complacent. Complacency halts growth because it convinces us that, "Everything is already fine just the way that it is." That mentality cripples our desire to grow into the maturity of Christ as we should. But it is possible to be grateful to God for the growth that he has given and also praying to him to continue to build us up.

I hope that you do have some faithful goals for how you want to grow and that you're praying for God's strength in you to accomplish those. And I hope that, no matter whose advice you follow in setting those goals, you'll follow the Spirit's advice and find contentment but not settle into complacency.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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

Reflections on mission work in eastern Africa

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

My reflections on Christianity in Mozambique, based on Sunday's presentation by one of our elders.

Whenever I hear about missions work—the efforts of devoted men & women who give their time and effort to taking the gospel into places where knowledge of it is scarce, I'm encouraged.

  • I’m encouraged by remembering that salvation by faith in Christ is for everyone, whether they live in wealth or poverty.
  • I’m encouraged to see every person as a soul whose greatest need is salvation in Jesus. I’m encouraged to remember that every person is precious because they are made in God’s image and are his child.
  • I’m encouraged that people see the value of teaching the truth about God, and they will do so even when only one person has a Bible.
  • I'm encouraged that God is making a way for people to learn his word in spite of corruption and evil in human polities and governments.
  • I’m encouraged—thanks to the pictures shown Sunday—to have seen the faces of some of our brothers and sisters in our faith. They are people with whom we may share little by way of customs or birthplace or language or economic station… but with whom we share the most important thing: our faith in the God of Heaven & Earth.

The Gospel is for all people, and it's a great blessing when we who know it can find ways to go and share it in places where it has been unknown. Rod's Sunday comments about the lack of Bibles remind us how fortunate we are to have it and to live in a place where universal literacy means that all who care to can read the words of God in our own language. We're reminded how fortunate we are to have people near to us who can teach the word well. We're reminded how fortunate we are to be so economically blessed. And we're reminded how important it is that all people are given the opportunity to learn the good news of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

So, here are two pieces of practical advice as we think about all of that. 1) Pray for our brothers and sisters in Mozambique to remain faithful and to grow in wisdom and understanding of God's word as they serve him. And 2) think through your life and what you have that could be a blessing to others. Can you set aside time to evangelize in our community? Can you donate money to a mission or faithful charity that you believe in? Can you write a letter to encourage a missionary in another part of the country or the world? Can you make a visit to another place in the country or the world to work alongside those who labor to convert outsiders and to build up the church of Jesus Christ? Think about it, pray about it, and decide how you will help the word of God continue to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).

-  Dan Lankford, minister

How Do You Take A Log Out of Your Eye?

Sunday, December 18, 2022

How do you respond when someone corrects you regarding your behavior, words, or attitudes? We tend to think that our responses depend on how the other person delivers the correction (and that’s something that we’ll address some other time), but the reality is that our response is just that: ours. So how do you handle correction, whether at work, at home, and from fellow saints at church? Obviously, wisdom is in order when considering the validity and worth of some rebukes, but when corrected in truthfulness, which of the following responses is most frequently yours?

Response 1: We begin justifying the thing that we did wrong. Maybe we attribute the fault to our current condition (e.g. “You don’t understand how tired I was.”). Maybe we lay it at the feet of our life influences (e.g. “My mom/dad always had that problem and I guess I inherited it.”). Or maybe we blame it on the situation (e.g. “I know what’s right, but it just wouldn’t work in this case.”). In all those instances, we are attempting to say that what was wrong should actually be reconsidered and seen as right.

Response 2: We compare ourselves to others’, attempting to look good by contrast to their bad. Maybe we’re prone to saying things like, “Well, I know I shouldn’t talk like that or do that, but I hardly think that I’m the worst example of that bad habit.” Again, we are attempting to temper the badness of our sins rather than self-correcting.

Response 3: Sometimes when we are caught in the wrong, we resist correction at first, but a guilty conscience eventually comes around and we begrudgingly, slowly make the necessary life adjustments. Jesus taught about that once (see Mt. 21:29), and while it isn’t the best case scenario, it is commendable in that it eventually leads to a good outcome. Even reluctant acceptance of rebuke and correction is still acceptance.

Response 4: We humbly accept rebuke, make the necessary corrections quickly, and even express gratitude toward the person who corrected us. How much better would be our relationships if, when exhorted to a better life of faith, we could say in response: “You’re right. I’ll fix that right away. And thank you so much for helping me.”

One of our main aims as disciples of Jesus is to reach out to the lost around us, and our hope is that they will receive the corrections that their hearts and lives so desperately need with humility and appreciation, even though we know that types of responses to the gospel vary widely. But, while we can’t control how the world will respond to correction given by Christ and the Spirit, we can and must be careful that we respond well when we are corrected. Otherwise, we won’t see clearly to remove the specks that are in others’ eyes, and, worse yet, we may even find ourselves to be opposing God.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Seein' My Father In Me

Wednesday, 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

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