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When is your best not your best?
When you have a powerful, well-trained singing voice, but your voice must blend in the overall harmony of a chorus. You can’t just sing what is your best; your best is what brings about their best.
When you are the fittest and most motivated one in your squad, but everyone must move together to an objective or target. You cannot simply run at your best pace; your best is what brings about their best.
When you could finish a project more efficiently and impressively by yourself, but it’s assigned as a group project. You should not depend only on your efforts; your best is what brings about their best.
When you are a serious student of deep Biblical things, but you are teaching a group of saints whose spiritual maturity isn’t at that same level yet. You can’t always present your best study; your best is what brings about their best.
When you could raise your kids all on your own, but you’re married and your spouse has contributions to make too. You can’t sideline them and just do your kind of parenting; your best is what brings about their best.
When you could make a great name for yourself by hard effort, great charisma, and novel ideas; but you are a servant to Someone greater than yourself. You can’t always do life in your self-empowered way; your best is what shows others His best.
When is your best not your best? When you’re holding back what could be your own greatness in order to be a servant to others. Then that service is the best thing that you can do.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Two Sundays ago, we talked about parenting. This past Sunday, we talked about leadership and shepherding. I believe that the two topics fit together seamlessly: As parents, it’s our job to shepherd our children into the fold of the good shepherd. Obviously, that’s a big concept that could be talked about in a myriad of ways, but for today, just consider this one aspect of shepherd-parenting: Setting and enforcing boundaries for our sheep is a way to protect them.
It’s not often in vogue to talk about the boundaries that we set for our kids, but there are eternal reasons that Christians understand as to why we must do that. First, because the boundaries that we teach them will, over the course of time, contribute to the character that defines them. And second, because proper boundaries keep them safe. Like a fence installed near a tall cliff, properly policing our kids’ activities keeps them from wandering into territory where they’ll suffer spiritual (and psychological) wounds that simply could have been avoided.
One way to do this: Christian parents need to be particularly mindful of our kids’ digital intake. What apps do they use? Who do they contact? What do they send and see and hear? What sort of messages—good or bad—are they getting on a regular basis? Parents, we would do well to either 1) set up digital boundaries that fully prevent them from access to much of the internet world, or 2) regularly check for ourselves what they are seeing and hearing. There are plenty of reasons for all of this, both from the realm of psychology and from the realm of spirituality (again, I offer the same Biblical advice from this past Sunday: “Know well the condition of your flocks” [Prov. 27:23]). And if we don’t know how to do these things with the technology that our children own, then we’d better learn or get the help of someone who does know. There is too much at stake for our kids to not invest in protecting them.
I know that many of you already do things like this, and I applaud you for it, because even if our kids resent us for a time because of the decisions we’ve made for them, we know (and God knows) that it’s the right thing to do. Each godly mom and dad will have to use some wisdom to know exactly how we will protect and guide our kids through these issues (so be sure to have some grace with other parents who make different judgment calls than you do), but godly wisdom dictates that some boundaries must be set and enforced. It’s a matter of disciplining them into being disciples of the Lord. “For [our parents] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” (Heb 12:10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
“The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” (Ecclesiastes 12:10, NASB)
I sure wish that I could say I’ve always spoken words of truth correctly and that they were spoken in a way that was delightful to my listeners. But I haven’t. My preaching has often been filled with far too much of my own thoughts on the world and far too little of the words of truth that God has spoken. May God help me do better.
“The Preacher” that’s mentioned in the verse above is King Solomon, who did his best to share the wisdom of God with audiences from all over Creation. And yet, even in the life of Solomon, there must have been times when he gave a teaching and then later realized that there was a better way that it could have been spoken. But the point of the passage is that he tried to do it right, for the glory of God.
And that’s what all faithful preachers do: We try to speak for God in a way that gives befitting honor to his own spoken words. We try to give knowledge, clarity, motivation, and inspiration to our hearers so that they will turn their hearts toward God and glorify him all the more with their lives. This is a tall order for fallible men to fulfill, but if that’s the way that God’s determined to disseminate his message, we’d better do it right.
One evangelical teacher has well said, “No [minister] lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low.” To fix that, we dare not lower the level of God’s oracles to make them easier for us to attain. Rather, we’d better learn to teach the truth in its righteous height and depth, with words of truth spoken in a divinely delightful way.
- Dan Lankford, minister
A recent report by the Pew Research Center, who study all sorts of trends connected to faith and religion, noted the following: “About a third (35%) of U.S. parents with children under 18 says it’s extremely or very important to them that their kids have similar religious beliefs to their own as adults… But attitudes on this question vary by the religious affiliation of the parents. White evangelical Protestant parents are twice as likely as U.S. parents overall (70% vs. 35%) to say it’s extremely or very important that their children grow up to have religious beliefs that are similar to their own. Some 53% of Black Protestant parents also express this view.” The report continues: “Parents who attend religious services weekly or more often are more than three times as likely as those who attend less often to say it’s important to raise children who will share their religious views (76% vs. 21%). Overall, parents are more likely to say it’s important that their children share their religious beliefs as adults than to say the same about their kids’ political views.”
Several things came to mind when I read the report. Here are just a few observations:
First, the data isn’t very surprising in many ways. Regardless of black or white, it’s not surprising that those who are regular church-goers care deeply about sharing their faith with their kids. If anything, it’s surprising that the percentages aren’t actually higher, because those who regularly attend Christian church services are, in the main, the ones who believe that the teachings of Christianity are truth. And if we believe that these things are true, then we necessarily must believe in the need to share them with our kids. If we believe that Jesus is the singular way, truth, and life (John 14:6), then we will want to share the good news about him with everyone and see all people come to follow him… especially those of our own household!
Second, I occasionally hear Christians say things like, “The faith isn’t hereditary. Each generation must have their own faith.” And while I understand the sentiment behind that, a report like the one from Pew should probably increase our awareness of the fact that the Bible does intend for faith to be hereditary in some sense. Yes, each person must come to a point of maturity where they take ownership of their faith, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater in saying that “Christian faith isn’t hereditary.” Because each generation is also supposed to teach the faith to the next generation. That was explicitly stated in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4-9), and there are plenty of examples or allusions to the same thing happening among Christians in the New Testament (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5). Our faith is supposed to be a gift from one generation to the next, and so it is “hereditary” in that sense, and we should be diligent to make it so.
Third, let’s make sure that we each establish a conviction in our hearts as to whether our religious practices are simply a matter of preference (“I believe in this religion, but I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like they have to believe it, and I wouldn’t want to pressure my kids into thinking they have to believe it just because I do.”), or if it’s a matter of conviction (“I believe that Christianity’s teachings are the will of God that he spoke thru his servants and that he verified by raising Jesus from the dead. They aren’t just ‘my personal beliefs…’ They are truth.”). Our kids will know the difference when they see it work its way out in our lives. And more than that, the Lord will know the difference, because he knows what’s in our hearts.
I hope these ideas are helpful in your thinking as a supplement to Sunday’s sermon about parenting, and I hope that in our individual hearts and in our families, all of us are growing more and more into the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
- Dan Lankford, minister
The following words from Genesis 1 are familiar to most Bible believers. But read them here, and take note of how often God talks about humans in plural terms.
“Let us make man[kind] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion… So God created man[kind] in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…” (Gen. 1:26-28)
It’s important to see in this passage that when God created humanity, he imbued both men and women with his divine life and image. It was not good that the man should be alone, because without the helper whom God gave to him, he was unable to fully bear the divine image. Mankind is made in the image of God, meaning that both man and woman are made to shine with his glory.
One of the most important ways that this truth can be observed in creation is in the different abilities of male and female parents in raising kids. A father’s firm guidance and discipline are demonstrations of God’s nature, and a caring mother’s gentle provision for a child is also a powerful demonstration of God’s nature.
I’m reminding us of these truths today because it’s Mother’s Day, and it’s important that moms are occasionally reminded that the work you do is a demonstration of God’s own love for his children! Mothers, I hope it’s encouraging to you to remember that your lovingkindness to your kids matters a great deal in the scheme of eternity. God bless you, moms!
- Dan Lankford, minister
On Wednesday night, we heard a lesson by the title you see above. It was the plain and powerful reminder that while our lives are limited to time, our choices can affect eternity both for us and for others. So, if we want to have an eternal impact, there are four things that we must do:
Believe courageously. Paul said that the most important thing that we can attain to is the resurrection of the dead (Phil. 3:7-17), and so we must forget what lies behind and strain forward toward that eternal goal, believing all along the way in the one person who has already been resurrected and perfected—Jesus, our Lord.
Love impartially. In James’ letter, believers are given a straightforward warning against showing partiality to others (Jas. 2:1-9). We must love all people in the same way that Christ would love them—seeing that they are a soul with the same greatest need as ourselves: to attain to the resurrection of the dead.
Pray fervently. Several New Testament passages could be referenced to teach us that the power to convert hearts and change the world does not come from within ourselves, and so we should pray to God seriously and frequently for his power to continue to work in his good world.
Speak consistently. Making an eternal impact means continually sharing the gospel with others, because their eternity depends on their having authentic, obedient faith in Christ.
The activities of our workaday lives matter a great deal, but let’s not let the immediate overshadow the importance of the eternal.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-13)
In the church, who is supposed to do the work of teaching children, caring for older saints, counseling young married couples, praying with sick people, evangelizing our community, showing hospitality, giving to the poor, helping new saints arrive & get settled and feel welcome among us, taking food to those who are grieving, and many other related activities? Is it the preacher? The preacher’s wife? The elders? Their wives? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be doing the work of ministry?
The passage quoted above makes it clear that all Christians are meant to do these works of ministering to others. Obviously, that includes preachers and their wives, elders and their wives… but it includes them simply because they are Christians and ministry is all Christians’ work.
A capable and passionate group of church leaders can accomplish a lot. But a passionate church can accomplish so much more together, and that’s what the Spirit would have us to be. We should all be doing the work of ministry—caring for each other, guiding others to closer fellowship with Christ, and reaching out. Ministry isn’t just what happens in the church building or in our assemblies, so look for opportunities where you can serve as a Christian this week.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Sunday morning’s sermon was likely a paradigm shift for many of us in how we think about evangelism (in fact, I later retitled the message Paradigm Shift: Evangelism). Since evangelism is already on our minds, here’s a little bit of advice about how to be persuasive in gospel teaching, based on how Paul shared the truth in the city of Athens (Ac. 17:16-33). Like we talked about Sunday, it won’t work every time, but it’s worth thinking about what we learn from Paul’s great example.
- Start where people are. Find some common ground from which you and the other party can start the things that matter most. Paul’s first address to the Athenian crowd was, “I perceive that you are very religious” (Ac. 17:22). We would do well to try to find an understandable, shareable piece of ground on which to begin talks.
- Address what is known and unknown. What does a person know or not know about God, about the Bible, about Christ, and about salvation? Paul noted all the altars and the altar “to the unknown God” in Athens, which told him a lot about how they understood things already. It’s wise for us to ask questions to someone rather than assuming too much about their beliefs.
- Bring attention to what doesn’t work to fulfill and save people. Ask, “Do you think that any government… or educational system… or science… or philosophy… or feel-good event… will truly heal humanity and make us what we should be?” And then draw their attention to what does work, saying something like, “But GOD can do that if we seek him.” That’s essentially the message the Paul gives, starting when he says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Ac. 17:23)
- Tell them about the solution that will work. Paul said that God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Ac. 17:31). The solution is Jesus—the one who was raised from the dead, who is the assurance that God’s judgment will be righteous when the end comes. He is the only solution, and the one toward whom we want to direct others’ hearts and their lives.
- Finally, push them to a decision point. It’s ultimately up to each one and the response that he or she makes to God, but there’s nothing wrong with asking someone in a Bible study, “What do you think you need to do about that?” It’s the same impetus that Paul put behind his words when he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Ac. 17:30).
There are plenty of examples that we can look to for advice in outreach (see also Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, John 4). And so I hope that these thoughts add something to your toolbox and help us make more connections as we teach others to follow Jesus and to understand the word more accurately.
- Dan Lankford, minister
PS — Special thanks to church member, Sean Cartaya, for creating the outline of this article and sharing it with me so that I could share it here.
In the pursuit of any goals, there are two types of attitudes that will get us to the goal: conviction about that goal and simple compliance with what it takes to accomplish it. Both will get the job done, but one is obviously far more effective. And this is especially true in regards to our goals as disciples.
- Compliance asks, “How much do I have to do to be saved?” Conviction actively tries to serve God better each day.
- Compliance asks, "What's the minimum amount of Bible I have to know to go to heaven?" Conviction reads and meditates on God's word day and night (cf. Psa. 1:2).
- Compliance wonders, “Will acting or speaking like this make other Christians judge me?” Conviction plans and then participates in ways to actively bless fellow church members.
- Compliance asks, “How many services do I have to attend?” Conviction looks for and even creates opportunities to spend time with other saints.
- Compliance asks, “Do I qualify to be an elder?” Conviction looks for people who have spiritual needs and guides them toward Christ.
- Compliance stays faithful to a marriage. Conviction continually pours love and joy into that marriage.
You see, compliance isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a base level; the elements of faithfulness that must be there. But if we want to really thrive in Christ’s kingdom, then let’s be looking for ways to grow beyond just that. The apostle Paul gave us this helpful mantra for spiritual growth when he said, “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. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-15)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.
Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.
In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.
But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. 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. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.
So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.
First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.
Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.
Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.
Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).
Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.
If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.
- Dan Lankford, minister