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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Accountability

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The final section of Sunday's message featured several pieces of advice for enduring the various temptations that we face. I'd like to take the opportunity to add one more idea that will can be very helpful in working toward faithfulness:

Make yourself accountable to someone for your spiritual behavior.

James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." This is what accountability is all about: someone in whom you can confide when temptation discourages or when you make the choice to sin. The idea is that each Christian would have someone in his or her life who cares deeply about their spiritual well-being and who will correct, rebuke, and exhort us through the struggles of living faithfully (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). And while it can obviously be really hard to face the reality of our sins as we confess them to someone else, the rebuke and correction and accountability will ultimately compel us to grow—to be more faithful to God and stronger to bear our temptations.

"Accountability partners" can be a close friend in the faith, a church leader, or just a stalwart example of faithfulness that you believe you can depend on. You may agree with them to regular phone call check-ins, a routine meal time and which you talk and pray together, or just someone who is okay with your sending them a text to say, "I'm struggling right now. Can you say a quick prayer for me?" Do whatever arrangement works for both of you, just as long the ultimate goal remains constant: That we're learning to walk more faithfully with God.

There are a few caveats and bits of advice that should accompany our thoughts about accountability:

  • First, we have to notice that the advice is to make yourself accountable to someone for your sins. This is different than saying, "I need to find someone who will hold me accountable for when I sin." If we put the responsibility on someone else, we will not grow from as we should. Even when we ask for help, each of us still needs to take responsibility for our own spiritual walk.
  • Second, if you're going to ask someone among God's people to have these difficult conversations, make sure that it's someone who is mature.
  • Third, your accountability partner needs to be of the same gender as you. Period.
  • Fourth, it's not advisable to make yourself accountable to someone who faces the same struggles that you do. Those conversations can sometimes turn into two people excusing each other's behavior rather than correcting it.

Is this THE solution to our problems with giving in to temptation? No. But it is an option that helps some people as they're trying to live faithfully for God. Along with the other advice given on Sunday morning, it's something that God can use to provide us the way of escape so that we will be able to bear our temptations.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Think Outside the Crowd

Sunday, November 06, 2022

This past Monday night, an enormous Halloween party on a narrow street in Seoul, South Korea went badly wrong and left over 150 people dead and many more hospitalized with serious injuries. Most of them were in their late teenage years or early 20's. How did it happen? A single narrow street built up a steep slope was packed wall-to-wall with thousands of party-goers, when a group at the top of the slope fell and it caused a cascade of people falling on top of other people, crushing many in the process.

It's a very sad story, but the real tragedy involves more than the accident; it came from the behavior of an uncontrolled crowd. In addition the main accident, there were others who were simply trampled in all the madness. The bad behavior of the crowd also meant that, after so many deaths had taken place and so many people had been injured, the partying continued, with crowds often stepping right over the dead or wounded to continue their revelry. The vast majority of the crowd, behaving more like a mob, simply weren't aware of how bad things really were or that they themselves were the cause of so many bad things taking place.

And that's where the whole thing turns into a lesson for us: It should cause us to think seriously and cautiously about going along with the crowd. Crowds turn into mobs quickly and unexpectedly, but joining in the behavior of a large worldly crowd, even when it is slow and seems under control, usually leads to bad things.

This principle has played out often over the millennia of human existence, and it continues in our time. The world's popular philosophies often have greater influence over Christians' thinking than the Law of Christ does. Sometimes we turn to the internet, crowd-sourcing counsel from Facebook to aid us in making big decisions that ought to be more influenced by the godly counsel of church leaders. We give place to the more respectable forms of crowd behavior when we let social awkwardness stop us from sharing the gospel with unbelievers or sharing the fuller truth with believers who need to be corrected. Churches and their leaders follow the trends of churches that seem to be thriving, but they don't stop to pray for wisdom as to whether the trend will help their members seek God better. And in all of it, we just need to ask ourselves: Are we following the crowd, or are we truly seeking to do things in the wisest and most godly way possible?

Crowd behavior isn't always inherently bad. If you're surrounded by a lot of godly people in your life, hopefully the crowd will be heading in a righteous direction. But always be aware. Be more aware than the mindlessness that drove the crowd in Seoul, and don't get caught in it. Seek God. Be deliberate. Think outside the crowd.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Deep Cleaning The Soul

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The experience is a common one: we begin work on a particular problem and a deeper problem is discovered. Sometimes a minor surgical procedure leads to the discovery of a dangerous, previously unknown disease. Sometimes a home repair which seems minor leads to an expensive overhaul of plumbing, electrical, or foundations. Even a routine pickup of a room can reveal the need for a second-level deep clean when we begin to see dirt more clearly than we had before.

The apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to, “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5). When we follow instructions like that, we very often discover that our problems are far deeper than we had initially expected.

Maybe an effort to work on our continual fearfulness and anxiety reveals the underlying grime of selfishness. Maybe the beginning stage of working on irritability reveals the contaminating poison of pride at a deeper level of the heart. Maybe it is an effort to curtail some indulgent spending that reveals an embarrassing lack of self-control which has henceforth just been swept under the rug.

Does all of that mean that we should not examine ourselves so that we do not find these problems? That’s tempting, but it is unwise and unbiblical. We should not avoid the examination and all its accompanying baggage; embrace it! Just be ready to confess your sins—on both levels. That’s the only way that the first-level cleaning gets done, and it is the only way that a soul can get to that second-level deep cleaning that we all need.

The Lord has laid claim on the whole heart of any who will surrender to him. We should expect that will lead all of us to some deep cleaning of the soul.

- Dan Lankford, minister

[This article first appeared on www.eastlandchristians.org; it has been edited for this writing.]

Tact & Conviction

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

When Paul had his opportunity to speak in Athens' great academic forum—the Areopagus—he displayed the quintessential balance of tact and conviction. And we would do well to learn both of those characteristics for our own dealings with the world.

His tact is demonstrated (as brother Truex pointed out in one of his lessons last Sunday) in the "common ground" approach that gave credit to the Athenians' evident religious bent. He didn't immediately castigate them for their idolatry; he acknowledged their pursuit of religious things and their enthusiasm for learning new things. Please do not misunderstand: Paul's approach did not involve watering down the gospel message or hiding its hard truths (see the next paragraph), but he approached his audience with the courtesy of understanding their starting point and guiding them toward Christ with gentleness. And we will have plenty of opportunities to do the same: to be gentle and patient as we share our faith with outsiders and lead them to a saving knowledge of Christ.

But tact, while it is a healthy manifestation of godly wisdom (remember: "Be cunning as serpents and gentle as doves." Mt. 10:16), can turn into cowardice when its goodness is over-extended.  If we are too fearful of upsetting someone with the hard truths of the gospel, we'll only be preaching a half-strength gospel to them. But we dare not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because we know that it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (cf. Rom. 1:16). And we must not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27), both to seasoned believers who know it well and to those who have never heard it. Paul spoke unapologetically about repentance and the resurrection, even if it turned away much of the crowd (Acts 17:30-31), and we must not compromise conviction or let an excessive devotion to social convention stop us from teaching about Christ, repentance from sin, and the judgment to come.

I assume (Perhaps wrongly. If so, please forgive me.) that many who read this will think themselves unable to balance these two ideas because we believe it to be an innate skill—something that some people have and others simply don't. But that's not so. It is a skill, like all others, for which some people are naturally gifted, but which anyone can learn and improve upon. All of us can learn to take this healthy track when sharing the gospel, and all of us should be working on the skill so that can become better and better at reaching others with the truth of the Gospel.

And finally, let us never forget why this balance of tact and conviction matters: because we want others to know the blessings and the joy of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. If we can grow our abilities to teach them, then they will be blessed and God will be glorified.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Two Perspectives on Truth

Sunday, October 09, 2022
"Religion needs to be relevant. If our teaching doesn't address real life issues of today, we'll lose people and the church will die out.""Who cares if we're relevant? Truth is eternal and unchanging. If we teach it like it's always been taught, that's enough."

Which of those perspectives is right and which one is wrong? Would we be right to think that Biblical teaching should reflect on our current time and culture (i.e. be relevant)? Would we be right to say that God's word is unchanging and that truth cannot be adjusted by the desires of our cultural moment? The answer to both is "yes." Let me be quick to add: both of these perspectives need clarity. And yet both of them are correct in some ways.

The teachings that God gave to his people in every era of Bible history were relevant to the time and culture in which they lived. When Israel was in the wilderness, God taught them about wilderness living. When they were settled in the land, he taught them about settled living. When they were rich, fat, idolatrous, and spiritually complacent; he sent them prophets to rebuke the behavior of the cultural moment. And after the fullness of time had come, he sent the apostles out to teach Jews & Gentiles to live in harmony with each other through Christ—a very relevant message to that cultural moment.

But on the other side of that coin, what was the factor that made the teachings of each of those eras so relevant and so helpful? Was it that God continually gave new truth? Did he change the moral expectations in each new era because their understanding of human nature had evolved? Was God showing us an example of being "woke"? Was he changing his expectations of humanity based on what the majority of them believed and wanted to be true in each new era? No. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Over and over again, when God sent messengers to his people, it was to give them a right-now message about an always principle. It was to teach them how to make the eternal truth of reality relevant to their contemporary daily life.

And that ought to be our goal too. We don't have choose between what is relevant to daily life and what is eternally true, because the eternal truth of God is already relevant to right now. Our job is simply to turn the light onto those eternal principles so that we can see how they apply to today. We cannot ignore reality because we believe that truth is eternal and entirely detached from daily life. But neither can we let "relevance" be the rudder that directs our convictions.

"For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12). It is not our job to update it or bring it into conformity with modern notions. Our role is to show how its eternal nature and unchanging truth are perpetually relevant to all people in every culture.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Abortion, Christianity, and the Governor of California

Thursday, October 06, 2022

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has made it very clear where he stands on the matter of abortion lately. He has signed over a dozen new laws in California in the last few weeks to create a place where abortion can be practiced very freely and very regularly. And while the whole problem is egregiously sinful and distasteful to Christians, this past week’s development in the story made it all the more inflammatory.

The picture you see here is of a billboard that Newsom’s office paid for—one in a whole series of billboards posted in states where abortion is restricted or illegal, inviting female residents of those states to travel to California to kill the unborn babies in their wombs. The problem particular to this billboard design is the fine print at the bottom of California's invitation to kill an unborn person: "'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.' -Mark 12:31"

In an open letter to Governor Newsom, John MacArthur, a church leader in California who is well-known across the evangelical community, responded with the following perspective on just how powerfully sinful is the conflation of those ideas and that particular misrepresentation of Scripture. He said:

"In mid-September, you [Governor Newsom] revealed to the entire nation how thoroughly rebellious against God you are when you sponsored billboards across America promoting the slaughter of children, whom He creates in the womb (Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–12). You further compounded the wickedness of that murderous campaign with a reprehensible act of gross blasphemy, quoting the very words of Jesus from Mark 12:31 as if you could somehow twist His meaning and arrogate His name in favor of butchering unborn infants. You used the name and the words of Christ to promote the credo of Molech (Leviticus 20:1–5). It would be hard to imagine a greater sacrilege.

Furthermore, you chose words from the lips of Jesus without admitting that in the same moment He gave the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). You cannot love God as He commands while aiding in the murder of His image-bearers."

MacArthur's letter continues on from there. And his words are harsh. And in this case, that is exactly what they should be. The problems with the governor's ads are myriad and serious. I'm grateful that someone publicly repudiated them and spoke so clearly to the scale of the problem. But it begs the question: What should we do when we see things like this? Here are some ideas for Biblically-minded responses:

First, don't become de-sensitized to the problem. We shouldn't act like the sky is falling (see the next paragraph), but neither should we allow the world's continual onslaught of assent to abortion to make us callous to the problem. The tide of immorality is not rising uncontrollably; God's sovereignty means that there is always hope of repentance. Don't be apathetic and think, "Well, that's just how things are going; there's nothing we can do about it." Always be willing to allow the heavy realities of sin to sink in and affect our hearts. Always remember the contrasting nature of good and evil. And always be convicted about what God has revealed in his word as right and wrong.

Second, don't give up hope. Sometimes, serious affronts to our faith and to truth can make us think that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams. It's not. God is still in control, and we can keep calm and continue to trust in him even while we fight against the tide of evil. Jesus established his church, and he promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. So we're not worried that God's plans in the world will fail. If we truly trust in him and continue to do his work in this world, then we can trust that he is continuing to work things out as he intends.

Third, let's be open and honest and convicted on the Bible's teachings about the sanctity of human life. It is God's prerogative to give life and to take it away; not ours. Christians must continue to believe that unborn life is sacred and deserves to be protected. We must continue to speak against euthanasia toward the very elderly and the terminally ill. We must continue to be the voices that advocate for God's gift of life to be respected whenever he chooses to bestow that life. It's not right for us to play god and make that choice in his stead.

Fourth, we need to maintain our concern for the souls of the people who promote such wickedness. There are some people in the world who have evil hearts and who desire simply to do evil. And yet, even some of those people can be saved by Jesus Christ. And so we pray for them. And perhaps even more so, we pray for those people who follow wickedness because they are ignorant to its true nature or have been deceived by its dishonest promises. We pray that they will have clarity and that they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord. We should pray for Governor Newsom and for all who promote the culture of death and abortion. We should pray that they see the truth and repent.

And finally, let's double-down on our pursuit of Bible knowledge and our efforts to share that knowledge with those around us. This life is filled to overflowing with opportunities to share the truth so that God's Spirit can change lives. But if we don't know the ways of God well enough to articulate them to a hostile or apathetic world with accuracy and faithfulness, then we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet (Mt. 5:13).

I believe that some day in the future, Americans at every level of society will feel a strong sense of urgency to erase the black mark of abortion from our history. But until that day comes, we need to be the voices who consistently call evil what it is and who proclaim the good news that Christ came to set us free from sin and death. May God give us strength, and may he hasten the day when evil is overthrown and he reigns in righteousness.

- Dan Lankford, minister 

Click here to read John MacArthur's letter.

Click here to learn about Governor Newsom's ad campaign.

Worthwhile Warnings

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The devastation that hurricanes cause never fails to amaze the human race, and with good reason. These powerful storms remind us of our mortality, our fragility, and our diminutive nature in comparison with God's created world; not to mention how small we are in comparison to God himself. Hopefully, these times of large-scale destruction also cause us to ponder life's realities. They are like the "house of mourning" that Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 talks about: they show us lessons and compel us to take them to heart.

Stories always seem to emerge in the aftermath of hurricanes of people who heard the warnings and yet elected not to evacuate. Typically (although not always), they have been told multiple times that they are in the "cone of uncertainty," and they have been advised or even ordered to leave for their own safety. And yet, for whatever reasons, they remain. The possibility is present that they will face the storm, and yet, in spite of the possible bad outcomes and in spite of the warnings, they stay. And of course, there are always some stories of those who have made that choice and paid for it with their lives.

This writing is not meant to reflect on the morality of that choice; that is beyond the scope of Biblical instruction and this writer's ability. However, the varied responses to a storm do give us ample fodder to think about the varied responses to the Gospel message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).

Have we, the whole human race, been warned of the coming storm of judgment when life on Earth is over? Yes. God is clear that it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment will come (Heb. 9:27). And in contrast to the predictions of storms, it's not a possibility that each of us will endure this storm: it's guaranteed. So how do humans respond? How will people respond when we—the people of God—repeatedly proclaim the warnings about the coming judgment? Some people will respond and will follow God's plan for redemption in Christ. But some will choose to remain in their sins despite what is coming for them. And while we fear for them and pray for them to make a better choice, in the final analysis, if we have faithfully proclaimed the warnings, then it is between each one and his God as to how he weathers the storm of judgment.

And so we continue to evangelize. And we continue to pray for the souls of men to be saved by Jesus. And we continue in the knowledge that the storm of judgment will come for each of us at the end of life on Earth. Are we ready? Are we helping to save others?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Generating Engagement

Sunday, October 02, 2022

It's a phrase that is used regularly in the world of social media marketing. The goal for businesses and brands is not just to inform their social media followers or just to entertain them; the goal is to "engage" them. What does that mean? It means that they want their followers to do something with their posts: respond with comments or re-share the content. Why does that matter? In the words of one marketing blog: "Because social media engagement builds customer-brand relationships... and increases word-of-mouth advocacy, which is a much more potent conversion tool than advertising." Essentially, "generating engagement" is a stepping stone toward a business's most meaningful moment: where the customer buys something.

Can you see how some of that same thought process could apply to how we interact with the people of the world? Obviously, our goals are more lofty than a simple business transaction: We're trying to persuade people to intwine their lives with Jesus. So how do we do that? By "generating engagement" with us that in turn turns their hearts to focus on Jesus himself.

Do you remember Jesus' two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount for how his people ought to interact with the world? He said, "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." (Mt. 5:13-14). In order for salt and light to effect their potential benefits, they must be in contact with something. Light is useless if it isn't seen, and salt has no effect if isn't applied. The idea is that both have to be used, and the lesson that Jesus teaches us there is about how we face the world: We engage with it. We do not isolate from them and shout judgment from a safe distance; we make contact and draw them alongside us so that we can move toward Jesus together.

Engagement is the kind of relationship with people in the world that brings them close to Jesus and makes them interested in learning more from him. We are like the social media account of a big company: Our aim is to generate engagement with Christ, his word, and his church. We want to engage with the people around us in a way that they are inclined to return again and again to learn more about what makes us tick, which will, of course, lead them to know Jesus better if we are living the way that we should be.

So, let's do our best to talk about Christ in ways that draw others toward him. Let's be the kind of people whose actions and words show the kind of character that they want more of in their lives. Let's know and be known, so that others may actually see us as the light of the world and give glory to God. Let's generate engagement as we represent Christ; drawing more and more people toward him every day.

- Dan Lankford, minister

1) Read. 2) Think. 3) Pray. 4) Do.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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)

Fathers Like the Father

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Christians understand that fatherhood permeates the whole fabric of reality because our Father is the Creator. And Christian dads need to understand our immense responsibility to teach our children about our Father in Heaven.

A few years back, I stumbled across a clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan about his regular use of "dad humor" in his shows. As the two bantered back and forth in ridicule of the whole concept of fatherhood, Colbert ironically and tragically said, "A father’s job is to be distant, authoritative, and never quite pleased. That way the children can eventually understand God.”

I cringe every time I think about that. Because in that joke, Colbert is right on something that’s really important about fatherhood: it is meant to give children an understanding of God. But he could not be more wrong about the nature the God whom we want our kids to know.

My fellow dads, it's our job to demonstrate God's own nature to our kids. It's our job to show them a father figure who is righteous, who is caring and merciful, who is stern when righteousness necessitates it, who speaks often of how much he loves his children, who is selfless and puts others' best interests first, who is self-controlled, who gives good gifts to his children, who listens well and responds to help his children, whose anger is righteous and self-controlled, and who disciplines his children out of his immense love for them. It's a tall order to set a lifelong example of God's nature, and if we have the proper humility, it makes us wonder if we're up to the task. So here are four guidelines to help all of us:

  • We need to be present with our children like God is with his people (cf. Ezk. 37:24-28, John 1:14, Rev. 21:3-4). Be present at home, at games, through heartbreaks and hard choices. Be present and attentive to their lives and their spirits.
  • We need to regularly talk to our children and listen to them like God talks to us through the word and listens to us when we pray (cf. Heb. 1:1-2, 1 Jhn 5:14-15).
  • We need to be joyful and grateful to have our children in our lives, like God, who speaks often of the joy that his children bring him (cf. 1 Jhn 3:1, Zph. 3:17). Play with your kids, do the things that they love, mark their life milestones with joy.
  • We need to disciple our children—always teaching each one of them how to love God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Whether we like it or not, dads, we'll always be laying the groundwork for our kids' view of God the Father. The only question is whether we're giving them an accurate picture of him or not. I pray for all of us, brothers. It's a big job, but with God, all things are possible.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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