Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
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“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Those who serve others spend a lot of their time doing what others ask of them or expect of them. If a spouse has an emotional need, a servant-oriented spouse will not resent their partner’s need, but will serve them by doing what they can to meet it. If a church has spiritual needs, her servant leaders will not begrudge the members for that, but will do their best to meet said needs. If a stranger is in need, servant-minded Christians will not turn a blind eye, but will do what we can to meet those needs as a demonstration of Christ’s love. And beyond the concept of need, many acts of service are simply done to give another what they want. If we love them, we find ways to serve them and bring them joy.
But of course, all these are just smaller versions of Christians’ greater goal of serving God in the way we live our everyday lives.
That’s what he meant in the simple statement quoted above. If we love him, then we will serve him. We will never begrudge being instructed or corrected by his word; we will do what needs to be done to live rightly before him. And more than that, we will look for things that we can do to make God “well pleased” (i.e. happy) with us.
As a father, there is one expression of my sons’ love that is exceedingly simple and yet is also quite elusive: the simple response of agreement and obedience when I ask them to do something. That simple act of willing obedience goes such a long in declaring their love for me. And it must surely be the same with God, who says to all people throughout all time in the words of his Son: “If you love, you will keep my commandments.”
- Dan Lankford, minister
Occasionally, I hear preachers and religious teachers talk about the importance of keeping the message that we teach simple. And there is a sense in which that’s right. Paul apparently thought it necessary to keep the truth simple enough that it could be clearly understood, and so he said that Christ had sent him into the world, “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor. 1:17) Just a few paragraphs later, he continued the same thought, noting how his speech and the concepts in it were not the lofty, esoteric discussions that one would expect from the philosophers of his time: He just taught Jesus and all that comes with knowing him (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1-5).
But all Bible teachers need to be aware that there is a difference between Paul’s ideal of simplicity and the ideal that we repeat regularly. I have heard many modern preachers and teachers advise that, “You need to preach down at the kids level,” or “Y’know, people can’t process as much as you think they can; you should simplify everything as much as you can,” or “I have one very important philosophy about how to preach and teach from God’s word: ‘Keep it simple!’”
Yet that isn’t what Paul was saying. Paul’s priority wasn’t just to simplify the message at all costs. Paul’s priority was 1) to preach the truth in all of its power and 2) to do that in such a way that people could understand it (cf. “power” in 1 Cor. 1:17 & 2:5). When our first priority in teaching is simplicity, truth necessarily gets moved to a lower priority. And we know this is possible because we’ve probably all heard sermons or classes in which the truth was so simplified that it was no longer true.
So our goal is teach the truth with clarity. Often, the simplest explanation of that will be the most helpful, but only when it retains all of the truth. If God has revealed a complex truth, then we dare not simplify it to the point of corrupting it. And yet, if there is a way to communicate complexity clearly, then let’s try our best to not overcomplicate it. In both cases, our first priority and our “one very important philosophy about how to preach and teach from God’s word” should be: Teach the truth.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The formula for all healthy, peaceful relationships is:
Everyone Gives + No One Takes+ Everyone Receives = Enough Blessings for Everyone
Everyone gives. That means that all parties in the relationship are altruistic. That is, they are purely thinking of how to be a blessing to others. No one worries that they themselves will be hurt, taken advantage of, or forgotten. They simply give to others.
No one takes. Nobody in the relationship is a consumer any more often than they absolutely have to be. Each party is so focused on giving (see the paragraph above) that there is little time to consider their own needs and feel slighted for unmet expectations.
Everyone receives. When kind things are done by others in the relationship, they are never rejected or downplayed. Because each party understands that taking is selfish, but receiving what another has given is actually a sign of humility. And so the key to relationship is not to give everything away and be miserable with nothing, but to perpetually give and also happily receive the good that others give.
Our natural human fear is that if we give to others all the time, there will not be enough left for ourselves. But when we learn to properly balance giving and receiving, God has promised that we will all have enough to meet our needs. Remember Abraham’s faithful words: “God will provide” (Gen. 22:8).
These principles are true of each person’s relationship with God, of our family relationships, of our work teams, and of our church family relations. If we want to have peace and God’s abundant blessings, then we must each learn to live out these mentalities as God does toward us.
- Dan Lankford, minister
On Sunday, we talked about the importance of following the divinely-spoken words of the Bible as the authority for all things, both in our personal lives and our church practices. We said in that message that we must be careful to do things God’s way and not our own. But tradition, philosophy, and personal preference are all sources that we sometimes look to for authority alongside or above the objective truth of God’s word. Here, I’d like to add one more channel thru which we often receive guidance contrary to God’s way: tribal knowledge.
Tribal knowledge, in one sense of the term, refers to the way that some principles, policies, and procedures get passed by word-of-mouth through an organization and inevitably get corrupted in the passing. In the restaurant where I work, it’s things like how sick pay functions, what to do in order to get shift coverage, and the specifics of our uniform policy. But the specifics aren’t the issue: the mentality is. Over time, like in a group of people playing a game of Telephone, legitimate elements of our work get passed from team member to team member and gradually become corrupted with each verbal transmission until they are flat-out wrong and a wholesale correction has to be made by the leaders. When we leaders become aware that it’s needed, we typically just open up the company handbook and point straight to the actual words that describe the requirements and remind everyone that they are going to be held to that standard. It’s simple and effective: an appeal back to the authority of a written standard that is accessible and knowable to all involved. And even though it must happen fairly often, it’s typically the only correction needed to the tribal knowledge that has led us astray.
As God’s people, we must have a clear and correct understanding of what the Bible says: not just the tribal knowledge of a community of believers. In Ezekiel 18, Israel had begun to use a proverb to explain why they were in Babylonian captivity. The proverb blamed the current misfortunes of God’s people on the generation that came before them (cf. Ezk. 18:1-2). But God told them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel” (Ezk. 18:3), and he went on to explain that he is righteous and holds each generation responsible for their own sins. The tribal knowledge that they had was wrong, and the authority of God’s prophetic word corrected it. The same thing is at play in the passage where Jesus condemns The Jews for “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” (Mt. 15:9, Mk. 7:7). It’s a problem common to all humanity: when the amassed and embedded knowledge of a culture guides us more than the truth from the Holy Word.
The takeaway for us is simple and weighty: The general senses of Christianity and the verbiage that we accumulate from church services, YouTube videos, commentaries, and podcasts are not enough to compensate for a lack of thorough Bible knowledge. This warning applies to our general conversations with other believers: we may pick up phrases and figures of speech common among believers in our time, but we should have ears that are trained by the word of God to be discerning as to whether these things are objectively true or they are just tribal knowledge. This warning also applies to the guidance that we often hear from the realm of psychology: some beliefs that are accepted among the psych community aren’t biblical (for example: that our decisions are not actually ours—all is determined by external factors of our upbringing, experiences, etc.), but some are right and biblical, and we need to be able to tell the difference. And there could be more places where we heed the tribal, cultural voices. We just need to have our hearts trained to hear to the words of God above all of them.
Tribal knowledge creates a lot of inconsistency in a restaurant environment. It creates confusion. It even causes conflict as some who know the real policies butt heads with those who operate on the tribal knowledge. And the same sort of things can happen in a church family. If our knowledge of spiritual things is only tribal—not carefully aligned with the actual words of Scripture—we’ll face many of the same problems. So let’s go back to the authoritative written standard and agree to uphold that as our first commitment. As the Hebrews writer said, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Heb. 2:1) as God has spoken through his angels, his prophets, and especially his Son.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last Sunday was Mid-Year’s Day: the exact middle date of a calendar year. And while the middle of a year is accompanied by far less pomp and circumstance than New Year’s, it does present us with an opportune reminder to occasionally take stock of our spiritual state.
How has our discipleship progressed through the first half of this year? Have we grown? Have we met our goals? Have we pursued them with the effort they merit? Have we set ourselves up for future success? Or are we on a downward trend in in our discipleship?
In 1 Samuel 7, under the leadership of Samuel and the protection of God, the Israelites had begun to move toward a time of renewed faithfulness. Their progress wasn’t much yet (remember that they were coming out of the time of Judges when things were truly terrible), but every step in the right direction matters and Samuel knew that. So, after the Lord had given them a significant victory over their enemies, Samuel set up a stone to memorialize God’s grace to them. He named it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help,” to remind them that, “Till now YHWH has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12)
What is your Ebenezer? What are the things that you can look to in your life that show how God has helped you to this point? Especially as you think back on the first half of this year, where can you see God’s hand at work for good in your life and the lives of those around you? What are the markers that show how far he’s brought you?
It’s good for us to always live with a general sense of God’s provision, but it’s all the better when we put in the effort to specifically notice his goodness and thank him for it. I hope that at Mid Year’s Day, you can say happily: “Till now the Lord has helped me.”
- Dan Lankford, minister
In Sunday’s lesson, we talked extensively about the unity that is supposed to characterize God’s people. But it may be that some questions linger in our minds after a discussion like that: “I see the value in those relationships, but what if they let me down or hurt me in some way? What if they have hurt me when I thought I could trust them in the past? What if we’ve known each other through church for all these years and that’s never been what our relationship was like—how would I start fixing that when it’s been broken for so long?”
The answer to all of those questions is simple to understand, but it’s difficult to do:
Choose to trust.
Every human relationship comes with risk. Parents risk their children breaking their hearts. Spouses inherently risk something by committing lifelong faithfulness to each other. Even building a friendship with anybody comes with an inherent risk: the closer they are to us, the more potential they have to hurt us. And the same is true of relationships in our church family. Will someone among God’s people hurt, disappoint, or frustrate us at some point? Probably. But are we willing to risk that happening because it’s what God has called us to in Christ? I hope so.
We have to choose to give trust in relationships. Especially after our trust has been broken, we must decide to extend it again if our relationships are to be healed. When we choose to do that, we will find that it’s reciprocated—maybe imperfectly, but still honestly—more often than not.
And so we repeat the Lord’s words again: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
- Dan Lankford, minister
The word “harm” gets used with more variety of meaning than most of us are likely to realize. Some examples: “I don’t see any harm in it.” “This could harm his/her prospects of advancement.” “The crash didn’t do any harm to the vehicle’s frame.” “He suffered no physical harm from the incident.”
For Christians, though, a new usage of the word in recent years has probably piqued our interest more than any of those examples. In the last several years, it’s become common to hear any disagreement with a person’s beliefs as “harm” to that person, particularly those living out any lifestyle described in the LBGTQ+ acronym. When some express conviction that those activities and ideologies are wrong, they are said to do “harm” to those who embrace them.
But wise and honest people are able to know the difference between something that is done maliciously and harm that must be inflicted in order to bring about good outcome. Like a surgeon who cuts into the body’s tissues in order for it to heal back to how things should be, truth cuts us so that we will grow better when the cuts heal. Small wonder Luke said that the audience were “cut to the heart” when they heard Peter preach about their sins in Acts 2:37.
So there is value in the “harm” that’s done by the truth, and we need to see that. And that ought to teach Christians two lessons:
1) When we speak the truth that cuts, let’s remember to do it with the proper blend of conviction and gentleness, speaking the truth in love.
2) If the preaching and teaching of God’s word ever feel like an attack to us, we’d better take a hard, honest look at how we need to change to be more of what God has called us to be in his grace.
The harm that the truth does is for our ultimate good. And maybe some believers need to learn the lessons that we would like our enemies to learn: That when the truth from God feels like a personal attack, we're doing something wrong.
- Dan Lankford, minister
For those who are following this blog, you know that it normally just featues Bible and discipleship teaching, typically of a more devotional quality. However, we occasionally want to give a glimpse of some of the goings-on at Northside here as well, so...
We're in the market for a new church building!
Lately, our attendance numbers have ticked up, and we're hitting the capacity limits of our auditorium as well as our parking lot. And since the city codes will not allow to us add any more seats in our current location, we're on the hunt for a new meeting place.
So, if you're a regular guest with us, if you're a member, or if you're just someone who connects with us through the web... we're asking you to pray with us that God will help us make the new facility a reality. We know that crowded spaces sometimes turn people away who could otherwise be encouraged or might need to learn The Gospel, and so we want to be expand and be able to accommodate more people who are eager to know God and join in our Christian fellowship.
Thank you for your prayers! And we'll keep the updates coming if something comes up.
"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Mt. 5:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last Sunday, a submersible with five people aboard set out to visit the Titanic wreckage at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a tourism trip—an opportunity for people who had paid very large amounts of money to visit something that only a few others have seen. But when the tour group didn’t return on schedule, a global search initiative was started, which lasted for days. But, on Friday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that pieces of the vessel had been found on the ocean floor and evidence had been brought forward from U.S. Navy sonar monitoring that caused them to believe the vessel had succumbed to the deep ocean’s extreme pressure and suffered a catastrophic implosion sometime Sunday, undoubtedly killing all five people aboard.
Tragic stories like these are a regular part of human societies. From cave explorers to high-altitude test pilots to small ships out on the ocean to extreme mountain climbers… the library of humanity is full of stories of people who tested the limits and were overtaken by the natural forces of the world.
How should Christians think about these things? First, we should grieve with those who’ve lost loved ones, being willing to vicariously experience the emotions that they must surely feel now. And we should pray for God to comfort them in this time of grief. It can be tempting to keep ourselves distant from hurt, thinking that others somehow do not merit such authentic concern from us. But that is hardly the attitude of Jesus who looked down with compassion on our broken world and came to comfort and heal us. We would do well to “weep with those who weep,” even with those who are outside the family of faith.
Second, it should remind us just how small and limited we are in power. For all that humans have done, we have still failed to build a tower to the heavens and to accomplish all the things that we propose to (cf. Genesis 11:1-9). We are severely limited by time, space, the natural forces of God’s created world, and the power that he still has over us. Even the power of the world’s greatest kingdoms is still governed by the far greater power of God who sits on the throne of Heaven (cf. Dan. 4:17, 25, 32). How much more, then, should we expect to be subject to the power of the massive natural world when we are so small in comparison to it and to its Creator?
Should all these things make us afraid? No, I don’t think so. But I do think they compel us to recognize our weakness and to glorify the one who rules over all it. We live in a reality that contains threats to us from every direction—both the infinitesimally small and inestimably huge. And we know a God who is both grander and more intricate than all of it.
The world occasionally reminds us of our own insignificance. Let’s let that lesson have its due effect on us as we consider this past week’s tragedy at the bottom of the sea. May we remember that we are not worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12), but he is!
- Dan Lankford, minister
“A living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”
“There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?”
Bible students recognize both of those quotes as inspired words from the book of Ecclesiastes. And that makes us wonder: “How could that be a healthy, godly view of the world? Aren’t faithful people supposed to be joyful, hopeful, and positive?” Well, the answer is yes. We are supposed to be joyful. And yet our joy must be built upon godly wisdom.
Ecclesiastes is written by a man who, to use his own words, “Has his eyes in his head” (Ec. 2:14), which is like our saying that a person has his head on straight. And a person—especially a Christian—who sees the world as it is will understand that some things simply are. People are prone to wickedness, death comes to all, and history eventually forgets almost everyone. Are these grim realities? Yes. But are they realities? Yes.
So how do we process this? Should we become cynical, bad-mouthing the world, its happenings, and its people? Or should we continue to serve our Father, continually trusting that he is working out his ultimately good plans in this world and the next? Christians can hold both perspectives simultaneously: seeing the world as it is and believing that God is working to make it better as we march toward eternity.
- Dan Lankford, minister