Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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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.


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

Maybe We Need to Pray Bigger

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Our prayers reveal what's truly in our hearts, whether they’re said publicly or privately. And I’m afraid that sometimes, the small prayers that we offer show that our faith in God is smaller than it should be. Maybe we need to pray bigger.

I was once in a service when the only prayer offered before Bible class was, "Father, help [our brother] to present the things that he wants to present this evening.” Can you see an issue there? That's different than praying for a teacher to have a ready recollection of the things that he's prepared, and it's very different than praying, "Father, help our brother present the things that you would want him to say." Both of those are things that we should want: We should want a brother to speak for God (that's what teaching a Bible class is, after all) and to have the things of God so fixed in his mind that he can recall them and speak them skillfully. We ought to be asking God for his will to be done and his words to be spoken—not simply what we want to present.

When that’s the prayer that we offer, it can sound like we're mostly interested in the speaker making a successful presentation. But 1) God can use unsuccessful presenters to speak his words (see Ex. 4:10, 2 Cor. 10:10), and 2) a class or sermon shouldn't be about what the speaker wants to say anyway. If we want to hear from God, let's pray to hear from God. Because if all that we pray for is for the speaker to speak his own ideas well, that's probably all that we'll end up with — a good presentation of the speaker's ideas, but not the words of God.

Consider two pieces of advice for how we think about our assemblies and about prayer:

  1. Remember that Bible classes and sermons are more than presentations—they are occasions for God's people to hear God speak. Ezra read from the words of God and gave the sense, and Paul told Timothy & Titus to speak to people as though they were speaking God's oracles. None of them prayed for opportunities to say what they wanted to say — they spoke for God. The Bible classes and sermons given in a congregation are categorically NOT tests of a man's presentation skills—they’re all about God.
  2. Choose your words when you pray. Think about the nature of our gathering in God's presence, and pray accordingly. I feel confident that David would not have prayed merely for correct notes and good voices for the worship leaders at the temple—he wanted them to be skilled in leading the hearts of the people toward God himself. We ought to want the same thing when we read and expound God's word. So let's pray for what we really [should] want to happen at our gatherings: that God would be glorified by a group of people whose hearts hunger to know him and his words.

- Dan Lankford, minister

A Christian Response To The Dis-"Respect for Marriage" Act

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate, in a vote of 61 to 36, passed what is called "The Respect for Marriage Act," which effectively attempts to redefine marriage by federal law to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide. And you might be thinking, "Didn't the Supreme Court legalize same-sex marriage across the country back in 2015?" Yes, they did. But what we're seeing now is the movement by the entire legislative branch of our government to put that precedent into codified law throughout the land. That the law is called "The Respect for Marriage Act" is profoundly misleading—even intellectually dishonest, because its first outcome is to repeal a previous federal law ("The Defense of Marriage Act" from 1996) that did respect marriage for what it is: the exclusive union of one biological man and one biological woman (although no one felt the need for the word "biological" in that sentence back in 1996). The new law was supported by all Democratic senators and 12 Republicans, had support from plenty of activist groups and even a few religious bodies (including the Mormons, oddly enough), and now all it lacks to become the law of the land is a signature from President Biden, which he will almost surely provide soon. All of it serves to "not only do [these unrighteous things] but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32)

How should Christians respond to news like this? What does it mean for our daily lives of faith and for our outlook on reality and for our place in society? Well, those are big questions that probably deserve more long-form writing, but here are four short responses to help us process all of it today:

  1. In our daily lives, we will probably feel very little substantial change right away. But Christians everywhere are already well aware of the not-so-subtle support of all activities and lifestyles connected with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ideologies all around us. It comes to as a gradual process of a few isolated incidents at a time, and we will likely continue to see more of those episodes in the course of normal life. A gay or lesbian married couple as next-door neighbors, more and more LGBTIQ+ characters in shows and movies, a coworker who invites us to witness their marriage to someone of the same sex, a city hall building that hangs a rainbow flag over the front of the building (this example is a current one in Colorado Springs), and more direct promotion of these sinful behaviors targeted to our kids. The challenges will likely continue to increase, and we need to remain resolutely committed to Scripture's teachings that God intended marriage to be the exclusive and sacred union of one biological man and one biological woman for their whole lives. There's a lot more to be said for how we talk about that conviction, but it's nothing that would ever diminish the import of our conviction about God's word.
  2. Christian couples need to value our own marriages and treat both the institution of marriage as well as our own spouses with the utmost honor. The world may enact policies and plans that undermine the integrity of God-ordained marriage and the selfless, holy love that ought to be characteristic of it, but Christians will still shine as lights out of darkness if our marriages demonstrate the love and respect of Christ and his church (see Eph. 5:33). Our examples in that closest of relationships will be one of the many ways that we can shine with Christ's light and let others see the glory of God (Mt. 5:16).
  3. These new developments at the federal level will very likely cause some challenges to religious liberty in the U.S. Back in 2015, when the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision was handed down, Justice Samuel Alito asked the U.S. Solicitor General how he thought that the decision would affect Americans' religious freedom, and he responded, "You know, I don't think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it's certainly going to be an issue." Yeah, it is. There will be challenges for religious schools and other parachurch (i.e. religious, but not church-connected) organizations who attempt to hold their religious convictions consistently (there already have been, and not just for Christians), and there will probably be challenges to Biblically-convicted churches themselves for the teachings they espouse on the subject. What will we do? Well... First, we will not be scared of Christianity being stamped out. Jesus said that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18), so Christians shouldn't be worried about losing in the grand scheme of history. Second, we should help our communities make decisions in favor of truth. Our votes, letters to the editor, or speeches in the school board meetings may be against the tide of the masses, but if we're speaking the truth, God will see that it's heard. And third, churches and their leaders need to be thinking ahead about how we will continue to hold on the truth, even if it costs us our charters, our tax-exempt status, our facilities, or some of our members when we do so. If things get dramatic enough that we lose everything to persecution, we will still have God, and he will not leave us or forsake us. And so we need to be mentally prepared to hold up the book and stand on truth for God's glory, no matter the cost.
  4. And all of this reminds us why we can't put our trust in anything other than God for surety in this life. If the Proverbs are going to instruct us to trust God more than even our own minds to get us through life (Prov. 3:5), then we for sure want to trust him above any government entity or worldly philosophical view. Only he is trustworthy enough to teach us the truth about every situation and circumstance. Only he can show us how to leave the darkness of error and live in the light of truth. Let's put our faith in him completely and exclusively.

There is a steady pace to the changes that we're seeing in our society. Many of the proponents of the new law about marriage have said that this is an important first step toward affirming LGBTIQ+ Americans, and that they believe there is more work to do. That's problematic because it forgets that this is not nearly the first step toward affirming those sinful behaviors and also because it warns us that more similar advances of the LGBTIQ+ agenda are likely ahead of us. But, in whatever we face in the present or the future, we know that God is with us, that he is righteous and unchanging, and that our perseverance to the end with him will grant us the reward that he promises.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Reversing Drift

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

The warning from that verse is a compelling one that obviously resonates with many people. It’s a perpetual challenge for all Christians. It’s a subtle process that we often don’t even notice we’re experiencing.

And that’s the key problem with drifting: it’s imperceptible. It’s very much the way that a boat drifts with no anchor. We may start off safely in a wide place where the water is deep enough, and so we go about our business and just enjoy the peacefulness of the water. But after some time passes, we look up and realize that while we’re inattentive, we drifted shallow water or a narrow place where the boat is about to bottom out. 

This is what happens spiritually as well. We often do not notice that we have lost ground, that we’ve developed unrighteous thought processes or habits, that we’ve neglected some important relationships, or that we—like the original readers of the book of Hebrews—simply haven’t grown; we’re spiritually immature long after we should have progressed to spiritual adulthood (see Heb. 5:11-6:12). The process by which all of this happens is subtle. So subtle, in fact, that we usually do not notice when it’s happening.

For us, maybe the drift looks like a little less Bible reading, a little unkindness that we make excuses for, a little blaming someone else for our weaknesses, or a little commitment that we didn’t keep, a little item that we borrowed but didn’t return… And after awhile, all of those little infractions of morality create vast amounts of spiritual drift.

So how do we stop that process? How do we heed the advice from Hebrews 2:1 and “pay closer attention” so that we do not drift away from God and the faith? Consider these three pieces of advice:

First, deliberate growth negates accidental drifting. Seeking God intently through Scripture, through prayer, through Christian fellowship, through worship, and through faithful books will help us become stronger and more grounded, halting the drift.

Second, a regular habit of undistracted, serious self-assessment will help us be aware of our true spiritual condition. Regularly and thoughtfully checking our spiritual lives isn’t always a pleasant experience, but it’s invaluable in our efforts to grow toward God.

And third, learn to desire God; not just to be satisfied with the status quo. Because if we truly want closeness with God, that desire will never allow us settle, but we will be continually working our way closer to him, not drifting away from him.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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