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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Do You Do As You're Told?

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

It's not a complicated question, but there could hardly be a more important one than this: Do you love Jesus? And if your answer is yes, here's a follow-up question: Does your behavior show that?

Sometimes, the thought plays a bit like a worn-out record, but there is infinite value in honestly taking stock of our lives and asking, "Do I practice what I preach?" Does my behavior match the faith to which I give assent on Sundays?

Allow me to give two pieces of advice:

1) Ask and answer specific questions that would highlight sin in a given area of your life. Take an honest look at whether you keep God's commandments regarding your money, your choices of entertainment, your marriage and family, your words, your free time, your social media behavior, your work ethic, your hobbies, your sex life, and your friendships. And then, if you discover that something is amiss, confess the sin to God in prayer and change your habits.

2) Think about how to live your life with total consistency. How can you be recognizable as the same person at work and at school, at church and at home? Does your character remain unchanged as you move from each realm of life to another? Ask and answer: how can I be consistently Christian in every area of my life?

Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." That plainspoken truth must govern every day and every area of our lives.

- Dan Lankford, minister

We aren’t. But he is.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Infinite. Free from limitations imposed by outside forces. All-powerful. Sovereign controller of destiny. Not threatened by any changes or shifts. All-knowing. Eternal, and therefore free of the confines of time and from its persistent aging effects. Able to know the future with certainty. Wise enough to create, and therefore to define, reality itself on one's own terms. Fully present in multiple, nay, all places at once. Intensely focused on one thing, and simultaneously never blind to anything else. Infinite.

That is a list of things which humans are not. We are finite, and our finitude manifests itself in many ways that are categorical opposites of the traits listed above. We are confined to time, outside forces do limit what we want to do, and we didn't create reality, so we are not able to define all of it. There are just so many things which we are unable to control. And even at our best, we don't always know the best way for a situation to turn out. Our limitations ought to keep us humble and make us realize how much we need the help of someone greater than us.

This makes it imperative that we choose to trust God. In situations where our limitations make us unable to do what is best, we must trust the will and the ways of someone who is un-limited. The prophet Isaiah spoke for God, who said of himself, "...my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). He possesses all the capacities that we do not to make promises come true and to know what is the right course in every circumstance.

This is why we pray. We acknowledge that he controls what we do not, and so we humbly hand over our anxieties and cares to let him control them as he knows best.

This is why we live by his moral instructions. We acknowledge that while we might have our ideas of what is the best course of action, he actually knows.

This is why we hope. We acknowledge that we are unable to save ourselves; that since we are confined to time, eternity is always out of our grasp when we go for it alone.

There may no thought that is more foundational than our beliefs about God himself. If our convictions are to be right, if our morals are to be righteous, and if our evangelism is to be truthful, then it depends on our beliefs about God being Biblically informed. It all depends upon who he is and what we know of him.

Infinite. All-powerful. All-knowing. All-present.

We aren't. But he is.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God With Us

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." (Rev. 21:3)

The greatest loss when Adam & Eve sinned was not a paradise garden, but the closeness with God which was forsaken. From then on, the purpose of God's plan from Eden to eternity comes down to one thing: he wants to bring humanity home to himself. All of his promises, his power, and his work through the apostles and prophets are an effort to bring us close and enfold us in his presence.

Doesn't that sound wonderful? Doesn't it sound like exactly what everyone in the world would want?

And yet, the story of the Bible is a repeated reminder that none of us want it enough. Our selfish choices and especially our willful sins show that we—the whole of humanity—do not, in fact, want God's presence most of all.

But in our better moments, we, as individuals, do understand what we are often incapable of wanting. So what is the solution? How is that God could promise at the end of Revelation that the dwelling place of God would again be with men? It is because of what he has done to make it possible. It is by his grace that anyone can have hope of being in an Eden-like paradise again.

Salvation belongs to our God. And so we dare not boast of anything we have done as though we have brought about our own salvation. And our hearts ought to be in a constant state of pouring out gratitude to God that he has set up his tent among us and has made us his own people. In eternity, he will dwell with us and we shall be his people. Let's be grateful for that reality; even the not-yet-perfected version of it in which we now live.

- Dan Lankford, minister

A farewell message to Jared & Bonnie Hagan

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Today (Sept. 11, 2022) is our last Sunday with Jared Hagan as the preacher at Northside. After 25 years, it's time for Bonnie and him to move on to another work, and we hate to see them go. The following is a letter to them from the front page of our bulletin, expressing our love, our appreciation, and our prayers for them as they go forward.

-----------------------------------

First, some Spirit-spoken reminders for how all Christians ought to view those like Jared and Bonnie who have served and taught us:

"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and 
are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem 
them very highly in love because of their work." (1 Thess. 5:12-13)

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. 
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." 
(Heb. 13:7)

To our brother and sister: We want you to know that we see the faithfulness that you have shown. We see your work, your loyalty, and your integrity. And we thank God for you.

"God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you 
have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do." 
(Heb. 6:10)

"We give thanks to God always for you, constantly mentioning you in 
our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith 
and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." 
(1 Thess. 1:2-3)

And now, as the time has come to say goodbye, we pray God's richest blessings on you in every path that you walk from now until eternity. We pray that your characteristically humble way, you will continue to serve God and others with grace and peace. We pray that you will trust in his will, be a blessing to his people, and share his good news. And we pray that he will shine his light upon you and hold you in the palm of his hand.

"[We] pray that all may go well with you and that you 
may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul." 
(3 John 1:2)

"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD 
make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace." 
(Num. 6:24-26)

You are so appreciated in this place. God bless you both.

Love,
Northside Church of Christ

New Treasures and Old Ones

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matt. 13:52, NIV)

Those words, spoken by the Lord himself, create a metaphor for an ideal way to teach God's law. The house is God's word, and we who teach (kids' Bible classes, adult Bible classes, sermons, or just conversations w/ outsiders) are the ones who bring out the great treasures found in it. Our job is not to invent new spiritual principles and practices out of whole cloth, but to mine the treasures which are already present in God's spoken word. Our task is simple: insight, not invention.

The metaphor also helps us to see which parts of the word are good for teaching: the old and the new. Now, remember that when Jesus spoke these words, God was actively revealing truth in new ways, so there was old truth, known well by the Jews, and new principles that Jesus' disciples could know and teach. We know that God is not continuing to reveal new truth today, and so our job is to continue to teach what was old and new to Jesus' time. Put in the simplest terms: Our job is to bring the treasures of truth out of the New Testament and the Old.

And so I hope that you are a disciple who truly values and enjoys the word of God. I also hope that all of us can appreciate that he has filled the house with treasure. It's the job of the teacher to bring out the treasures and show them to others, but it's a privilege for all who can read the word to seek out those treasures that can so thoroughly enrich our lives.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Group AND The Individual

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

"The Power of And." It's the simple reminder that while life often seems to present us with two opposing choices, we often have the ability to pursue both if we will give the requisite thought to doing it well. In manufacturing, companies think that they must choose whether to produce a quality product or to produce it quickly. In fitness, we are sometimes told that we have to choose whether to develop endurance or strength. In life and family, we think we have to choose whether to excel at work or excel as parents & spouses. But in all of those cases, there is a way to embrace both good things, as long as we use godly wisdom in trying to do them both well. It's the power of and; not the tyranny of or.

This simple principle should be applied to how we think about church. I find that many elders and preachers are more naturally inclined to thinking about the church in terms of its group behavior or in terms of the individual members who make it up. And while there's nothing wrong with those natural inclinations, we need to be aware of them so that we can deliberately open our eyes both aspects of church life. Because every congregation is individuals and a group.

This means that our group activities matter, and so they should be overseen by the leaders and engaged by the members. Worship assemblies, Bible classes, home devos, VBS and other special events, singing, worship leader training, and preaching... Church leaders should be eminently aware of how these things are going and how we are using them 1) to best glorify God, and 2) to maximize the spiritual benefit to the congregation.

AND...

It means that the individuals in a church matter. There is simply not enough religious activity to make up for a deficit of visiting orphans and widows. The extroverts need church fellowship, and the extroverts need church fellowship. Senior saints need to be visited and encouraged, and young folks need to be mentored and encouraged. Parents need someone to check on their parenting and their marriages. New Christians need well-guided Bible study. Engaged couples need Christian marital counseling. People with doubts need someone to shine the light on Scripture to answer those doubts. The socially awkward people in a congregation need friends, and the cool people in the congregation need friends. The rich and the poor both need reminders that Christ is our true treasure. And church leaders should be eminently aware of how all of those people's spiritual needs are being met.

Whether you are a leader in one of God's churches by position or simply by influence, don't pigeonhole your thinking into an emphasis on one or the other of these ideas. We should pay attention to the individuals in our church and to our group efforts. We serve God with both, and so we should serve him well with both.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Whole Picture

Sunday, August 28, 2022

A panorama is one of my favorite pictures to take with my smartphone. They admittedly present challenges (it's tough to move your hands steadily while taking it, they don't go easily on Instagram, etc.), but I like them because they can give a more complete sense of the reality that I was seeing in the moment. A mountainous coastline, a wide-open plain, a tall building, a big group of people; they can all be seen more completely, which makes them all the more impressive, when the picture takes in a wider view.

As Christians, we ought to do our best to develop a panoramic view of God's will as revealed in the Bible. In Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul told a group of elders that when he had been with them and their church, he "did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." Does that mean that he covered every single phrase of the Old Testament and all the things that the New Covenant teachings that the Spirit was revealing through him? Not likely. He was only with them for about 2 years. However, he covered such a breadth of God's will that by the time he left them, he could confidently say he had given them everything that they truly needed to know.

Christians, in the broadest sense of the term, have a habit of pigeonholing ourselves into particular parts of the Bible to the neglect of others. We follow our natural inclinations either toward the New Testament or the Old, the harsh truths or the happy promises, the narratives or the teachings. What we need is a balanced diet of all of it. What we need is a panoramic view of God's will that takes it all in and sees individual elements in the context of the whole.

A preacher whom I really like is wont to say, "It takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian," and I think he's right about that. Can a person be a Christian without an under-standing of Paul's deep theology in Romans? Yes. Can a person be a Christian if he struggles with moral questions in Judges or if she comes up short in her memory of some of the Torah's laws? Yes. I believe that the Philippian prison warden was truly saved on the night of his baptism, despite the fact that he likely knew very little about the Bible (see Acts 16:25-34). But is that where we should stop? Should Christians who know very little about God's will be satisfied to stop learning? By no means! If we want to become whole as Christians, then we must continually work on understanding the whole counsel of God.

No matter where you are in your knowledge of the things of God, keep growing. Keep reading and meditating on his word, ask questions to those who know, and pray for under-standing. May God give us open eyes to panorama of his word. May he draw us in more and more to comprehend the greatness of his love. May he help us to see the whole picture.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Looking Back & Reaching Forward

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

In Acts 20:17-38, the Apostle Paul spoke with the elders of the church in Ephesus. In what they knew would be their last conversation, he advised them about their future as church leaders, and he reminded them of how they started. Books could be written about the inspired guidance given in that short text, but for today, just consider Paul's approach of addressing both the past and the future at a crucial turning point. There's obviously a lot of wisdom in that approach, as evidenced by the many other Bible leaders did the same thing (Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David). They understood the wisdom of humbly thanking God for his past & present blessings and entrusting themselves to his goodness with a positive outlook on the future.

As a church family, we're at a turning point. God has shown his goodness to this congregation for the past two and a half decades, and we would do well to be immensely grateful. From the time that Northside was founded, we have grown, changed, seen members and leaders come and go, moved to new worship venues, reached new people with the Good News, faced and overcome challenges, and maintained faithfulness to God through prayer and the ministry of the word. And who is to be commended for all of that? Our long-timers, those who came before us, our preacher and our elders, parents & grandparents who teach the faith to their young ones, and above all the Spirit of God who has taught and guided and blessed. All glory belongs to God.

And as we look forward from this crucial turning point, I truly believe that God will continue to be with us if we continue our work of service to him. If we pray, if we "hold up the book," if we care about each other, and if we teach the lost about Jesus; he will continue to give us renewed spiritual life and growth in numbers. And when that happens, all glory will still belong to God.

So I encourage you to make time for sincere prayer in these coming weeks. The Hagans have just three weeks left here. Let's tell God how genuinely thankful we are for their influence, teaching, and loyalty these many years. And I would ask you to pray earnestly for me and my family for the next several weeks, that I will faithfully fulfill the ministry that God has given to teachers of his people.

We're looking back and reaching forward; all for God's glory.

"Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you." (2 Thess. 3:1)

- Dan Lankford, minister

God Teaches Ezekiel to Preach

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Moreover, he said to me, 'Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD," whether they hear or refuse to hear.'” (Ezek. 3:10-11)

Ezekiel is told to do three things with the words that God speaks to him. Think about each one of them for a few moments. They serve as instructions for us too, giving guidance for all who teach God's word.

  • "Receive in your heart and hear with your ears." Ezekiel, while he is called to be the preacher, is first called to be the listener. He, like all saints, was to have a mind that was clearly open to receive God's word. Those who teach others but do not absorb the word into their hearts or put it work in their lives are hypocrites. Teachers of God's ways are not meant to be merely professionals with a skillset; they should be, first and foremost, disciples. Receive the word with your own ears and in your own heart; don't let its power pass you by on the way to your hearers.
  • "Say to them, 'Thus says the Lord.'" God did not intend for Ezekiel to go to the people and tell them his own perspective or plans regarding their exile in Babylon. He was called to tell them what God had said. And so it must be with preachers today: We must do our best to honestly represent God's teachings on every subject matter specifically because they are God's teachings. Our job is tell both saints and sinners, "This is what God says."
  • "Whether they hear or refuse to hear." This is perhaps the toughest part of Ezekiel's commission. In his time, most of his people's hearts were callous to what God had to say, so he was rejected often. And the fact remains that there will always be those who refuse to hear when truth is preached. And yet, our job is to faithfully teach it anyway. Because we believe that the effectiveness of salvation comes from the power of God—that his way always works, even if all the world rejects it. And so it is like Paul told Timothy: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2).

The task of teaching the word of God is a serious one. Pray for Jared and for me that we are up to the task. And pray for all of God's people, that we will have more people who follow God's instructions for Ezekiel and who faithfully fulfill their teaching ministry.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Bible for Absolute Beginners

Sunday, August 14, 2022

For many in this congregation and many who visit here, the Bible is a constant life companion. We know the order of its books by heart, we readily follow its numbering system, and we have at least a general sense of its chronology and the various styles of writing found within it.

But what if you didn't know any of that? How would one start getting to know this wonderful collection of writings? Once it becomes a second nature, it's easy for us to underestimate the difficulty of developing a working knowledge of the Bible and God's plan that is revealed in it.

Part of evangelism is teaching the Bible to absolute beginners. Many of the people whom we will talk to as we try to make disciples are going to be unfamiliar with the Bible, and it's our job to be longsuffering as we instruct them in God's ways and God's word. That won't always be the case, but we should still always be ready for it.

So where do we begin? How would you present the Bible to someone who is an absolute beginner? What does a person need to know first?

Consider this general set of first ideas. They should not be considered authoritative, but simply this author's ideas of a good springboard into deeper study.

  • The Bible is telling one unified story that points to Jesus—the man through whom God will reconcile all sinful people back to himself. It contains writings in several styles, by many different authors, and from various times and places; but it all points to Jesus, the Christ.
  • God selected of one family—the family of Abraham—as the channel through which he would bring the blessings of Jesus to all people. The history of that family is told in the 
Old Testament.
  • The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—contain historical records of Jesus' lifetime on Earth. The book of Acts tells how Jesus continued his work by the Holy Spirit and through his people. All of this took place after he was resurrected and ascended into Heaven.
  • The events that are of first importance to know and believe are these: 1) Jesus died, 2) Jesus was buried, 3) Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, 4) Jesus was seen by many people after he rose from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:3-8).
  • The rest of the Bible elaborates extensively on what it means to have a relationship with God. Some of the key things are simple teachings about repentance, faith, resurrection, baptism, and eternal judgment (see Heb. 6:1-2).

As you look over that list, maybe you can think of someone who needs to hear these fundamental things. First, pray for that person, and then start planning the time and place where you can teach them. The Gospel is for all. Let's be ready to help everyone—especially the beginners.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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