Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
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Tact & ConvictionTuesday, November 01, 2022
When Paul had his opportunity to speak in Athens' great academic forum—the Areopagus—he displayed the quintessential balance of tact and conviction. And we would do well to learn both of those characteristics for our own dealings with the world.
His tact is demonstrated (as brother Truex pointed out in one of his lessons last Sunday) in the "common ground" approach that gave credit to the Athenians' evident religious bent. He didn't immediately castigate them for their idolatry; he acknowledged their pursuit of religious things and their enthusiasm for learning new things. Please do not misunderstand: Paul's approach did not involve watering down the gospel message or hiding its hard truths (see the next paragraph), but he approached his audience with the courtesy of understanding their starting point and guiding them toward Christ with gentleness. And we will have plenty of opportunities to do the same: to be gentle and patient as we share our faith with outsiders and lead them to a saving knowledge of Christ.
But tact, while it is a healthy manifestation of godly wisdom (remember: "Be cunning as serpents and gentle as doves." Mt. 10:16), can turn into cowardice when its goodness is over-extended. If we are too fearful of upsetting someone with the hard truths of the gospel, we'll only be preaching a half-strength gospel to them. But we dare not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because we know that it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (cf. Rom. 1:16). And we must not shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27), both to seasoned believers who know it well and to those who have never heard it. Paul spoke unapologetically about repentance and the resurrection, even if it turned away much of the crowd (Acts 17:30-31), and we must not compromise conviction or let an excessive devotion to social convention stop us from teaching about Christ, repentance from sin, and the judgment to come.
I assume (Perhaps wrongly. If so, please forgive me.) that many who read this will think themselves unable to balance these two ideas because we believe it to be an innate skill—something that some people have and others simply don't. But that's not so. It is a skill, like all others, for which some people are naturally gifted, but which anyone can learn and improve upon. All of us can learn to take this healthy track when sharing the gospel, and all of us should be working on the skill so that can become better and better at reaching others with the truth of the Gospel.
And finally, let us never forget why this balance of tact and conviction matters: because we want others to know the blessings and the joy of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. If we can grow our abilities to teach them, then they will be blessed and God will be glorified.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Two Perspectives on TruthSunday, October 09, 2022
|"Religion needs to be relevant. If our teaching doesn't address real life issues of today, we'll lose people and the church will die out."||"Who cares if we're relevant? Truth is eternal and unchanging. If we teach it like it's always been taught, that's enough."|
Which of those perspectives is right and which one is wrong? Would we be right to think that Biblical teaching should reflect on our current time and culture (i.e. be relevant)? Would we be right to say that God's word is unchanging and that truth cannot be adjusted by the desires of our cultural moment? The answer to both is "yes." Let me be quick to add: both of these perspectives need clarity. And yet both of them are correct in some ways.
The teachings that God gave to his people in every era of Bible history were relevant to the time and culture in which they lived. When Israel was in the wilderness, God taught them about wilderness living. When they were settled in the land, he taught them about settled living. When they were rich, fat, idolatrous, and spiritually complacent; he sent them prophets to rebuke the behavior of the cultural moment. And after the fullness of time had come, he sent the apostles out to teach Jews & Gentiles to live in harmony with each other through Christ—a very relevant message to that cultural moment.
But on the other side of that coin, what was the factor that made the teachings of each of those eras so relevant and so helpful? Was it that God continually gave new truth? Did he change the moral expectations in each new era because their understanding of human nature had evolved? Was God showing us an example of being "woke"? Was he changing his expectations of humanity based on what the majority of them believed and wanted to be true in each new era? No. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
Over and over again, when God sent messengers to his people, it was to give them a right-now message about an always principle. It was to teach them how to make the eternal truth of reality relevant to their contemporary daily life.
And that ought to be our goal too. We don't have choose between what is relevant to daily life and what is eternally true, because the eternal truth of God is already relevant to right now. Our job is simply to turn the light onto those eternal principles so that we can see how they apply to today. We cannot ignore reality because we believe that truth is eternal and entirely detached from daily life. But neither can we let "relevance" be the rudder that directs our convictions.
"For the word of God is living and active" (Heb. 4:12). It is not our job to update it or bring it into conformity with modern notions. Our role is to show how its eternal nature and unchanging truth are perpetually relevant to all people in every culture.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Abortion, Christianity, and the Governor of CaliforniaThursday, October 06, 2022
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has made it very clear where he stands on the matter of abortion lately. He has signed over a dozen new laws in California in the last few weeks to create a place where abortion can be practiced very freely and very regularly. And while the whole problem is egregiously sinful and distasteful to Christians, this past week’s development in the story made it all the more inflammatory.
The picture you see here is of a billboard that Newsom’s office paid for—one in a whole series of billboards posted in states where abortion is restricted or illegal, inviting female residents of those states to travel to California to kill the unborn babies in their wombs. The problem particular to this billboard design is the fine print at the bottom of California's invitation to kill an unborn person: "'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.' -Mark 12:31"
In an open letter to Governor Newsom, John MacArthur, a church leader in California who is well-known across the evangelical community, responded with the following perspective on just how powerfully sinful is the conflation of those ideas and that particular misrepresentation of Scripture. He said:
"In mid-September, you [Governor Newsom] revealed to the entire nation how thoroughly rebellious against God you are when you sponsored billboards across America promoting the slaughter of children, whom He creates in the womb (Psalm 139:13–16; Isaiah 45:9–12). You further compounded the wickedness of that murderous campaign with a reprehensible act of gross blasphemy, quoting the very words of Jesus from Mark 12:31 as if you could somehow twist His meaning and arrogate His name in favor of butchering unborn infants. You used the name and the words of Christ to promote the credo of Molech (Leviticus 20:1–5). It would be hard to imagine a greater sacrilege.
Furthermore, you chose words from the lips of Jesus without admitting that in the same moment He gave the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). You cannot love God as He commands while aiding in the murder of His image-bearers."
MacArthur's letter continues on from there. And his words are harsh. And in this case, that is exactly what they should be. The problems with the governor's ads are myriad and serious. I'm grateful that someone publicly repudiated them and spoke so clearly to the scale of the problem. But it begs the question: What should we do when we see things like this? Here are some ideas for Biblically-minded responses:
First, don't become de-sensitized to the problem. We shouldn't act like the sky is falling (see the next paragraph), but neither should we allow the world's continual onslaught of assent to abortion to make us callous to the problem. The tide of immorality is not rising uncontrollably; God's sovereignty means that there is always hope of repentance. Don't be apathetic and think, "Well, that's just how things are going; there's nothing we can do about it." Always be willing to allow the heavy realities of sin to sink in and affect our hearts. Always remember the contrasting nature of good and evil. And always be convicted about what God has revealed in his word as right and wrong.
Second, don't give up hope. Sometimes, serious affronts to our faith and to truth can make us think that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams. It's not. God is still in control, and we can keep calm and continue to trust in him even while we fight against the tide of evil. Jesus established his church, and he promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. So we're not worried that God's plans in the world will fail. If we truly trust in him and continue to do his work in this world, then we can trust that he is continuing to work things out as he intends.
Third, let's be open and honest and convicted on the Bible's teachings about the sanctity of human life. It is God's prerogative to give life and to take it away; not ours. Christians must continue to believe that unborn life is sacred and deserves to be protected. We must continue to speak against euthanasia toward the very elderly and the terminally ill. We must continue to be the voices that advocate for God's gift of life to be respected whenever he chooses to bestow that life. It's not right for us to play god and make that choice in his stead.
Fourth, we need to maintain our concern for the souls of the people who promote such wickedness. There are some people in the world who have evil hearts and who desire simply to do evil. And yet, even some of those people can be saved by Jesus Christ. And so we pray for them. And perhaps even more so, we pray for those people who follow wickedness because they are ignorant to its true nature or have been deceived by its dishonest promises. We pray that they will have clarity and that they will come to a saving knowledge of our Lord. We should pray for Governor Newsom and for all who promote the culture of death and abortion. We should pray that they see the truth and repent.
And finally, let's double-down on our pursuit of Bible knowledge and our efforts to share that knowledge with those around us. This life is filled to overflowing with opportunities to share the truth so that God's Spirit can change lives. But if we don't know the ways of God well enough to articulate them to a hostile or apathetic world with accuracy and faithfulness, then we are no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet (Mt. 5:13).
I believe that some day in the future, Americans at every level of society will feel a strong sense of urgency to erase the black mark of abortion from our history. But until that day comes, we need to be the voices who consistently call evil what it is and who proclaim the good news that Christ came to set us free from sin and death. May God give us strength, and may he hasten the day when evil is overthrown and he reigns in righteousness.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Click here to read John MacArthur's letter.
Worthwhile WarningsWednesday, October 05, 2022
The devastation that hurricanes cause never fails to amaze the human race, and with good reason. These powerful storms remind us of our mortality, our fragility, and our diminutive nature in comparison with God's created world; not to mention how small we are in comparison to God himself. Hopefully, these times of large-scale destruction also cause us to ponder life's realities. They are like the "house of mourning" that Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 talks about: they show us lessons and compel us to take them to heart.
Stories always seem to emerge in the aftermath of hurricanes of people who heard the warnings and yet elected not to evacuate. Typically (although not always), they have been told multiple times that they are in the "cone of uncertainty," and they have been advised or even ordered to leave for their own safety. And yet, for whatever reasons, they remain. The possibility is present that they will face the storm, and yet, in spite of the possible bad outcomes and in spite of the warnings, they stay. And of course, there are always some stories of those who have made that choice and paid for it with their lives.
This writing is not meant to reflect on the morality of that choice; that is beyond the scope of Biblical instruction and this writer's ability. However, the varied responses to a storm do give us ample fodder to think about the varied responses to the Gospel message of righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25).
Have we, the whole human race, been warned of the coming storm of judgment when life on Earth is over? Yes. God is clear that it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment will come (Heb. 9:27). And in contrast to the predictions of storms, it's not a possibility that each of us will endure this storm: it's guaranteed. So how do humans respond? How will people respond when we—the people of God—repeatedly proclaim the warnings about the coming judgment? Some people will respond and will follow God's plan for redemption in Christ. But some will choose to remain in their sins despite what is coming for them. And while we fear for them and pray for them to make a better choice, in the final analysis, if we have faithfully proclaimed the warnings, then it is between each one and his God as to how he weathers the storm of judgment.
And so we continue to evangelize. And we continue to pray for the souls of men to be saved by Jesus. And we continue in the knowledge that the storm of judgment will come for each of us at the end of life on Earth. Are we ready? Are we helping to save others?
- Dan Lankford, minister
Generating EngagementSunday, October 02, 2022
It's a phrase that is used regularly in the world of social media marketing. The goal for businesses and brands is not just to inform their social media followers or just to entertain them; the goal is to "engage" them. What does that mean? It means that they want their followers to do something with their posts: respond with comments or re-share the content. Why does that matter? In the words of one marketing blog: "Because social media engagement builds customer-brand relationships... and increases word-of-mouth advocacy, which is a much more potent conversion tool than advertising." Essentially, "generating engagement" is a stepping stone toward a business's most meaningful moment: where the customer buys something.
Can you see how some of that same thought process could apply to how we interact with the people of the world? Obviously, our goals are more lofty than a simple business transaction: We're trying to persuade people to intwine their lives with Jesus. So how do we do that? By "generating engagement" with us that in turn turns their hearts to focus on Jesus himself.
Do you remember Jesus' two metaphors from the Sermon on the Mount for how his people ought to interact with the world? He said, "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world..." (Mt. 5:13-14). In order for salt and light to effect their potential benefits, they must be in contact with something. Light is useless if it isn't seen, and salt has no effect if isn't applied. The idea is that both have to be used, and the lesson that Jesus teaches us there is about how we face the world: We engage with it. We do not isolate from them and shout judgment from a safe distance; we make contact and draw them alongside us so that we can move toward Jesus together.
Engagement is the kind of relationship with people in the world that brings them close to Jesus and makes them interested in learning more from him. We are like the social media account of a big company: Our aim is to generate engagement with Christ, his word, and his church. We want to engage with the people around us in a way that they are inclined to return again and again to learn more about what makes us tick, which will, of course, lead them to know Jesus better if we are living the way that we should be.
So, let's do our best to talk about Christ in ways that draw others toward him. Let's be the kind of people whose actions and words show the kind of character that they want more of in their lives. Let's know and be known, so that others may actually see us as the light of the world and give glory to God. Let's generate engagement as we represent Christ; drawing more and more people toward him every day.
- Dan Lankford, minister
1) Read. 2) Think. 3) Pray. 4) Do.Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Living for Jesus requires a constant pursuit of greater spiritual maturity. It’s a prospect that can be simultaneously encouraging and daunting to think about. It’s daunting to think that even with a lifetime of growth, we will never achieve perfect spiritual maturity. But it’s also encouraging to know that we will always have a goal toward which we can press forward. Even the apostle Paul said: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way...” (Phil. 3:13-15)
So how do we keep attaining spiritual growth? Many answers could be given, but the four-step process listed below is an exceedingly simple method whose effectiveness has been proven again and again:
- READ — Read the Bible. Read faithful books about God’s things. Read righteous blogs, articles, and essays. Fill your mind with God’s things.
- THINK — Ponder what you read from God’s word. Consider its teachings about God, its literary value, and its practical significance for your life.
- PRAY — Pray for God’s power to work through you as you seek to live a more faithful life as one of Jesus’ followers. Depend on his power.
- DO — Remember James’ warning: “Do not only hear God’s word, do what it says” (Jas. 1:22, paraphrased). Get busy living out what you have learned and prayed about.
By God’s grace, we each have unknown potential as a Christian. Let us continually strain forward to the greater spiritual maturity that lies ahead.
- Dan Lankford, minister
(originally published at www.eastlandchristians.org, Mar. 2020)
Fathers Like the FatherSunday, September 25, 2022
Christians understand that fatherhood permeates the whole fabric of reality because our Father is the Creator. And Christian dads need to understand our immense responsibility to teach our children about our Father in Heaven.
A few years back, I stumbled across a clip of Stephen Colbert interviewing stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan about his regular use of "dad humor" in his shows. As the two bantered back and forth in ridicule of the whole concept of fatherhood, Colbert ironically and tragically said, "A father’s job is to be distant, authoritative, and never quite pleased. That way the children can eventually understand God.”
I cringe every time I think about that. Because in that joke, Colbert is right on something that’s really important about fatherhood: it is meant to give children an understanding of God. But he could not be more wrong about the nature the God whom we want our kids to know.
My fellow dads, it's our job to demonstrate God's own nature to our kids. It's our job to show them a father figure who is righteous, who is caring and merciful, who is stern when righteousness necessitates it, who speaks often of how much he loves his children, who is selfless and puts others' best interests first, who is self-controlled, who gives good gifts to his children, who listens well and responds to help his children, whose anger is righteous and self-controlled, and who disciplines his children out of his immense love for them. It's a tall order to set a lifelong example of God's nature, and if we have the proper humility, it makes us wonder if we're up to the task. So here are four guidelines to help all of us:
- We need to be present with our children like God is with his people (cf. Ezk. 37:24-28, John 1:14, Rev. 21:3-4). Be present at home, at games, through heartbreaks and hard choices. Be present and attentive to their lives and their spirits.
- We need to regularly talk to our children and listen to them like God talks to us through the word and listens to us when we pray (cf. Heb. 1:1-2, 1 Jhn 5:14-15).
- We need to be joyful and grateful to have our children in our lives, like God, who speaks often of the joy that his children bring him (cf. 1 Jhn 3:1, Zph. 3:17). Play with your kids, do the things that they love, mark their life milestones with joy.
- We need to disciple our children—always teaching each one of them how to love God with all of his or her heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Whether we like it or not, dads, we'll always be laying the groundwork for our kids' view of God the Father. The only question is whether we're giving them an accurate picture of him or not. I pray for all of us, brothers. It's a big job, but with God, all things are possible.
- Dan Lankford, minister
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 UsWednesday, 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