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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Me & The Screen | Taking Responsibility For Ourselves

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Screen devices are amoral things. They aren’t good or bad of themselves; they are tools that can be wielded in good ways or bad. And that means that responsibility falls on us. How can we be smart and spiritual about what we see and hear with them?

First, let’s just occasionally look away from screens and engage with the people most immediately in front of us. Sometimes, we simply use them too much, and we need to learn to ignore them in favor of a meaningful personal connection. With family and friends, at work or in worship, and especially when doing personal devotions, refusing to let a screen interfere will help us focus on the moment’s purpose.

Second, let’s learn to control what we see. Last week’s post talked about ‘the algorithms’ populating our screens with things we don’t want there. But there are settings that can be changed and blocking services that can be employed to stop a lot of that. So let’s be aware of the options that we have and use them. Filtering software and parental controls are widely available if we look.

More than that, let’s make ourselves accountable to regular check-ins with a more mature Christian—a place to confess a sin, talk about a temptation and the way of escape from it, or thank God together for a milestone amount of time that we’ve endured temptation.

Third, let’s just set ourselves some time limits so that we know when enough is enough. Maybe we shouldn’t put screens beside us when we go to bed. Maybe we should keep them out of arm’s reach during meal times. Maybe we should make a house rule for no ‘small screens’ after a certain time in the evening. In general, let’s build in some responsible time barriers where we’re training our minds not to need the screens.

Overall, this comes down to self-control. It’s about making sure that while the screens are lawful for us, we aren’t mastered by them (1 Cr. 6:12). So let’s pray for wisdom and strength to be self-controlled. Let’s put in the effort to protect ourselves from the foolishness and sin that threaten to creep into our lives. Whatever effort and new learning it requires of us, it will be worth it for the sake of our souls.

- Dan Lankford, minister

 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Faithful Reading: The Conviction To Lead

Sunday, January 21, 2024

One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to 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 as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.

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The Conviction to Lead, by Albert Mohler, gives 25 principles for leading a group of people with Biblical principles, starting with a simple and powerful truth: those who lead must have some strong convictions about Christ, the Bible, and God’s purposes in the world. As the author says, much leadership talk is about plans, but convicted leadership is about a purpose—a belief in an ideal—that is the guiding light for one’s life and influence on others. As the author says, “The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team-building, motivation, and delegation, but at the center of the true leader’s heart and mind you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.” The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to know the Gospel in the same way that he himself did: “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Ths. 1:5).

From that starting point, the author expounds many key principles of leadership, both practical and conceptual. Leadership is all about character; a principle seen in the two main passages about elders’ qualifications. Leaders are managers; a principle seen in the Bible’s repeated admonitions to care for one’s flocks and household. Leadership is stewardship; a principle seen in Jesus’ passing of his kingdom into the hands of men until his return. All of these ideas, plus many very practical pieces of advice throughout the book, have greatly helped me as a leader in both religious and secular work settings.

Spiritual principles and scripture quotes are found throughout the book, guiding readers to think about leadership like the Lord himself would. So , whether you’re a leader in your workplace, here at church, in our community, or in the military; some of these principles (and maybe all of them, to some degree) will be helpful guidance for you. The presence of godly leaders in the world is a blessing from God, and so if more of God’s people can become the leaders that we should be, we can more fully become a channel of his blessings to the world.

-Dan Lankford, minister  

Click here to get it in paperback.

Click here to get it on Kindle.

Me & The Screen | Some Things Are Just Off-Limits

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took some of God’s commands and taught his followers how to keep our hearts several steps back from breaking those commands. One of his most memorable examples of this was these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:27-28)

To lust is to wilfully look at and think about anyone other than one’s spouse with sexual desire. This is what makes pronography wrong, and it’s what warns us to be very wise and to have some serious self-control with how we use all of our internet-connected screen devices.

Lust and pornography are the most serious challenges that many face with the screens. When we take Jesus’s words seriously, we start to realize how often we are confronted by the temptations to these things. And when it comes to our devices, we often find that the things which tempt us to lust are not only available, they relentlessly badger us, showing up surprisingly even when we deliberately seek to put them away. This problem is made particularly acute by the large-scale internet usage of “the algorithm.”

“The algorithm” is the common shorthand way of describing how dozens of services from TikTok to Amazon suggest content that machine-learning believes will interest an individual. It’s based on the typical online behavior patterns of people in our same age bracket and of our same gender. And it’s based, to a large extent, on our own browsing, searching, and viewing habits. So if you watch a lot of videos on a certain topic, whether innocuous or unholy, you’ll probably find that you’re being shown more of those videos. And if you’re being shown a lot of similar or related videos, ads, or suggested sites; it may be because the algorithm’s awareness that you’ve already gone there.

This is a good reminder for us to be on guard against lustful thoughts wherever they come to us. We don’t have to be hunting across the internet for unholy content; it’s already hunting us in every channel from the most innocent social media services to the far darker corners of the web. And so we first guard our hearts, and then we’ll have the motivation to learn how to guard our devices (more on that in next Wednesday’s post).

In Matthew 5, Jesus continued his teaching with these words: “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Mt. 5:30) If our screens are opening up a way into a temptation that we simply haven’t been able to endure, then Jesus’s advice to “cut off your right hand” might best be applied to our cutting off the thing that we hold in our hand. Maybe either a fast from screens or an all-out purge of them is the best thing some of us could do for our spiritual well-being. Better that we enter into life without a smartphone than to enter into Hell with one. Is that a sacrifice? Of course. Is it worth it? Absolutely!

- Dan Lankford, minister 

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Faithful Reading: How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth

Saturday, January 13, 2024

One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to 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 as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.

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How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, is a guide to wisely interpreting the different genres of writing found within the Bible. It is similar to the adult class study that we undertook here at Northside in August of last year. It gives advice on what to look for and think about in the books of prophecy, in the Apostles’ letters, in Moses’ Law, and in the wisdom literature. Think of it as a guide to meditation—not the meditation itself, but a guide to getting the most out of the Spirit’s words in their various forms.

Why is accurate Bible reading an important skill to develop? Or, to ask the question in the inverse: What can possibly go wrong if someone doesn’t know how to read the Bible correctly?

For generations, Bible teachers have insisted upon respect for context when reading and applying the God-spoken truth of the Bible, and they have been right to do so. The book being recommended here expands that context to not only include the flow of thought in a group of paragraphs, but more fully to the writing style and historical backdrop of a book of the Bible.

I have found these instructions to be immensely helpful in my personal reading of the Scriptures, which obviously helps in my teaching ministry. Though I don’t claim perfect understanding, I can look back at my walk of faith and clearly see that my current understanding of some Biblical matters is much more truly Biblical than it once was. And this is, in large part, due to an increased ability to read the Bible more on its own terms and less in pursuit of what I believe it should say. That is, to respect its context.

As the Psalmist said, God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. And so we should meditate on it day and night, letting its truths penetrate our hearts, making us more like Christ himself. And if we can have some help handling that word of truth more accurately, then I think we should take advantage of that opportunity.

It’s my prayer that the teaching you receive here at Northside, as well as the book being recommended here, can help us all know the truth more fully.

Click here to get it in paperback.

Click here to get it on Kindle.

 

-Dan Lankford, minister

Faith-Building Fridays | Matter Demands A Maker

Friday, January 12, 2024


Something never comes from nothing. That’s one of the most fundamental facts about our natural world. Stuff doesn’t just pop into existence; it always comes from a source. For that reason, when we look at all the physical stuff around us, we’re compelled to ask the question: “Where did all of this come from?” Because something never comes from nothing.

That simple reality is why the old-school skeptics used to argue that our universe was eternal, that everything has always been here. Turns out that the best way to avoid the question of origin is to argue that the universe had no origin. They argued vehemently for the eternal universe, and, in some cases, even cut corners to win the argument. The reason Einstein made the rookie mistake of dividing by zero when establishing his theory of general relativity was to avoid the fact that his equation proved the universe was not eternal. 

Of course, this debate was put to rest in 1919 when a man named Sir Arthur Eddington first observed that our universe was in a constant state of expansion. He found that everything in the universe was exploding outward in every direction from a central point – like shrapnel from a bomb. It was as if the entire universe had burst into existence from a single infinitesimal point of nothingness. Edwin Hubble would go on to observe the same, and because of this discovery, the scientific community would go on to accept that our universe was not eternal. That’s why the prominent atheists of our day no longer argue for an eternal universe, but that our universe originated with a “Big Bang.”

It is a verifiable scientific fact that our universe had a beginning – something did, indeed, come out of nothing.

What does that mean? It means that our world cannot be explained naturally. It means that our existence must be the result of something “supernatural” – something beyond the physical. What we see when we consider the origin of our universe is precisely what is written in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith, we understand… that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
 

- Jonathan

 

 

Me & The Screen | Disconnected and Distracted?

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

How much time do you spend with a screen? Stats on Americans’ average usage are bandied about sometimes. But this consideration isn’t about an epidemic pattern in a group; It’s about YOU. How much of your time is spent with the screen, and which apps are getting the most of that screentime? Your phone’s Settings menu can answer these questions, and it might be worth finding out.

I find that the stats often show a different picture of my life than what I feel. I may feel that I spend a lot of time on good things throughout each day, but then the numbers tell a different story. Chances are that a lot of us are wasting some time with our devices. There are undoubtedly some productive, wholesome, and meaningful things that we do with them; but if we are being wasteful, then we should correct it.

Because wasting too much time on mindless frivolity can’t be a hallmark of a life given to Jesus. Paul warned us to “make good use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:19). And Jesus gave us his example of one who worked on the things of God while the time was right, because he was aware of the preciousness of time and the importance of using it wisely (cf. John 9:4).

Additionally, there’s the whole consideration of whether our device-centric activities get more attention than our relationships. Are we engaged in the lives of our spouses, kids, parents, friends, and others? Or are we checked out, giving our attention and care to a screen?

It might be wise for all of us to check our screentime stats for a clearer understanding of what we’re actually engaged with. Maybe we’ll find that we’re using our time exactly as we believe we should; maybe not. In either case, let’s be aware so that we can make wise choices that glorify God.

And more than that, it might be wise to just occasionally put the phone away and fully engage the people and the moment in front of you. Just exercise the mental muscles of attentiveness, care, and awe. Exercise those often enough, and we’ll find that their strength is a lot more rewarding than the mental weakness that we begin to breed when we are in a constant state of distraction and entertainment from a screen.

- Dan Lankford, minister

(images sourced from Storyset.com)

Faithful Reading: Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution

Sunday, January 07, 2024

One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to 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 as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.

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Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution, written by brother Paul Earnhart, is a series of essays that reflect on The Sermon on the Mount. Brother Earnhart highlights how Jesus’ words, while they have a familiar and comfortable sound to so many, actually invite each person to behave against the grain of—which is to say, better than—whatever culture he or she lives in. Christ’s instructions show us surprising ways that Christians will transform the world; not by taking control of it through out-politicking, out-maneuvering, and out-pacing others, but by faithfully keeping our commitments, turning the other cheek when we’re wounded, and calmly trusting that God will always provide for our needs. It’s about individual transformation in each person, leading to our salvation and sanctification.

As Earnhart notes in his book’s intro, “The Sermon on the Mount is the best known, least understood, and least practiced of all the teachings of Jesus.” Other writer have noted that the ethics found here are the most difficult anywhere in reality because they require an unparalleled level of selflessness from each individual.

As an additional resource, you can also check out Bible Project Podcast on any podcast platform. They are doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount this year, which promises to be an enlightening journey through the Lord’s teachings.

Again, to quote from brother Earnhart: the teachings from The Sermon “are a composite picture of what every kingdom citizen, not just a few super-disciples, must be.” May God give each of us the humility and strength of character to fully give ourselves to Jesus’ “spiritual revolution.”

-Dan Lankford, minister

Click here to find the book on Amazon.

Me & The Screen – Your Phone's Not Inherently Bad

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Smartphones are ubiquitous now. Everyone, everywhere, seems to recognize one when they see it. Many of us have more than one. They are such a transformative piece of tech that little kids hold up their hands to pretend to talk on the phone differently than they used to (most kids now don’t do the thumb-and-pinky thing because they have no context for phones that look like that). They are around us all the time, which, as most of us realize, can be both a good thing and a bad thing.

This month, I want to talk about Christians and smartphones, and I’d like to start the series by noting some good that can come from wise usage of our devices.

They give us opportunities to authentically share God’s word thru apps like Zoom and FaceTime. They give us a view of our world’s events and people’s many needs. Countless websites provide various forms of truthful, high-quality Bible teaching. Bible reading apps abound. You can stay connected with friends and family in authentic ways through social media outlets (several of them can still be used for that).

I, for one, really like having a smartphone in my life. It helps me be better connected with others, more attentive to the world and my role in it, and more productive as a Christian leader. Of course, it’s not an unqualified good. But in the main, I find that it helps me become more of the kind of person that God would have me be.

A smartphone is like the magic mirror on the wall—it shows us what we want to see. So let’s want the things that are worthwhile to Christian eyes, ears, and hearts. Christ said, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34)

Preachers and parents have warned for a long time about the potential that media has to influence us for the negative. But, we can use the same technology to let our lights shine out with the ability to influence others’ minds for the positive. Let the lamp of the body shed light on some good things, and let’s use what’s in our hands to fill our own hearts with knowledge, appreciation, and love of God.

- Dan Lankford, minister

(Images sourced from storyset.com)

Faith That Grows God's Way

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Happy New Year!

As the new year begins, ponder this question: Is your faith growing in the natural and healthy way that God designed it to, or is it confined and contained in an artificial way that is preventing the growth it could experience? Here’s an example to give some clarity to the question:

The picture on the left is a Bonsai tree. It’s deliberately pruned and kept small, it exists only in a small pot, and its appearance is kept pristine at all times. It is purely decorative. It’s technically alive, and it’s technically growing. But it doesn’t grow as GOD intends it to—it’s artificially kept under control. No divinely-allowed wildness is tolerated; only what conforms to human planning and direction.

The picture on the right is its counterpart: full-size, wild-growing trees of the same species. Even though it’s so slow that it’s barely perceptible, wild trees grow continually. They grow large, they live for many years, they bear fruit, they become strong enough to withstand the weather, and the birds of the air nest in their branches. They have deep roots. They are a paragon of God’s gift of life to his creation.

Now, let’s ask ourselves: Does my faith look more like what I want it to be… or more like what God wants it to become? Does my faith look good, but I find that it’s a purely decorative addition to my life… or does it have the strength to withstand life's storms and even at times provide spiritual shelter for others? Is my faith more shaped by the opinions and preferences of others… or is it allowed to grow by God’s power and his design for it. Is my faith purposefully kept small, safe, and tame… or is radically, powerfully obedient to the ways of God in word, in deed, and in every thought and intent ?

…God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faith-Building Fridays Intro | The Tipping Point

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

"The Tipping Point" refers to the moment when a great number of tiny changes culminate in an overwhelming and unstoppable change. Think of it like rolling a heavy stone up a hill. You push and push that stone, tediously making progress with every step, until you finally reach the crest of the hill. Once you reach the teetering point of perfect balance, all you must do is give that stone one more nudge to send it careening down the other side. That’s your tipping point – the moment when many tiny changes lead to an enormous change.  

I think faith works that way; it has a tipping point. 

Establishing a firm belief in the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and the deity of Jesus does not happen in a moment. It’s not the result of hearing one cool fact or one compelling argument (even if that sounds more romantic). Instead, it’s the result of hearing a great number of arguments. True faith is engrained within our hearts when we peruse the mountain of evidence God has provided for us piece by piece until the argument is so compelling that we reach faith’s tipping point – the moment when faith becomes so irresistibly rational that it can no longer be reasonably denied. That’s even how faith works during the ministry of Jesus (John 1:50).

Faith is a tipping point kind of thing. 

For that reason, Dan Lankford and I have designed a project that we hope will convict, confirm, and establish your faith. We’re calling it, “Faith-Building Fridays,” and the aim is simply to offer you one compelling piece of evidence – one reason to believe - every Friday for all of 2024. It is our prayer that through this project we can help you build your faith in the existence of God, the inspiration of the scriptures, and the deity of Jesus Christ. 

Come back tomorrow for a few more introductory remarks from Dan.

- Jonathan Banning

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