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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

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Rhinestone Cowboy and The Emptiness of Life

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

What gives your life purpose and fulfillment? What is your basis of meaning and joy, and what do you consider a successful life? Is that thing substantive, real, and permanent? Or is just a veneer of joyfulness that’s installed over a life of emptiness?

When we serve ourselves and seek to fulfill our own desires, we end up with treasures that waste away in one way or another. When we desire fame, money, love, influence, thrill, reputation, power, and pleasure… we may gain them, but eventually we’re left grasping for handfuls of dust as they blow away. We build what looks like a fulfilled and satisfied life, but with a little reflection, we realize that it’s phony—a flimsy veneer used to hide the emptiness that is the real story.

I recently began thinking about this as I combed thru some famous songs of yesteryear. One that caught my attention was Rhinestone Cowboy by Glen Campbell. As I listened, I realized just how ironic the song’s message is. It’s about a country singer who wants to become famous, and his obsession with that goal robs him of the good life again and again. But he he does eventually get the fame that he seeks, and when he does, he describes it this way: “Like a rhinestone cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo… getting cards and letters from people I don’t even know.”

To me, that doesn’t sound like much of a reward for all the compromises he’s had to make along the way. A rhinestone cowboy’s life sounds like a sham, because everything in it lacks substance. Rhinestones have no value in the real-world experience of cowboys; they’re just delicate decorations—all for show. And the relationships that he celebrates aren’t actually meaningful; they’re just letters from people he doesn’t even know.

There’s no substance to a life like that. There’s nothing real in a life with shallow relationships and a lack of true, God-centered fulfillment. James said it this way: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jas. 4:3-4) And Jesus told it to us this way: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all [the things that you really need] will be added to you.” (Mt. 6:33) And there could be quoted countless other places where the Holy Spirit clearly communicates the same concept: that If our desire is for God, we can have him, and he is enough, and we will not lose him. Once that relationship is in place, our lives will have substance and we will gain fulfillment that cannot be taken away or ruined. And it will be more than a facade of satisfaction; it will be the real thing in such abundance as to make others ask about the reason for it (see 1 Pt. 3:15). Only a theistic worldview offers this. And only a worldview in which we put our faith in a God who loves us offers it so deeply.

I wonder if the songwriters behind Rhinestone Cowboy meant for it to ironically portray a life of emptiness. I’m not sure, but I’d bet that most people who’ve heard the song over the years have failed to see thru the facade. As Christians, though, we see with eyes of faith that penetrate human thinking and help us realize that all self-serving desires will ultimately leave us empty when we pursue them. But when we pursue the reign of God and his righteousness, we can be assured that everything we need will be added to our lives. And when our focus is on him, we will find real purpose and fulfillment that last through this life and through eternity.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Faith-Building Fridays | One Miracle Trumps Them All

Friday, July 12, 2024

All of Christianity’s most essential teachings center on the person of Jesus Christ. His divinity, incarnation, doctrine, life, death, and resurrection are The Gospel. But if you had to boil it down to the single most essential and distinctive belief among those, it would have to come down to his resurrection. C.S. Lewis observed from the book of Acts that for the apostles and early saints, “to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the resurrection.” It was that message, more than any other, that they proclaimed to a lost and dying world, and it turned the world upside-down.

Skeptics and opponents of the faith have long been aware of the importance of this doctrine too. Many have denied its existence, even in the face of compelling historical evidence. One notable, extreme example, a bishop in the Anglican church, is notorious for publicly disbelieving that Jesus rose. He has written somewhere, “That the apostles had a transformative experience of some kind is evident, but it had nothing to do with the resuscitation of Jesus’ body.” This is, of course, tantamount to denying the entire Christian faith, as Paul said: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cr. 15:17)

And so the resurrection is the greatest among God’s many important miracles. And the evidence for it stacks up strong: there is a bank of prophecy behind it, a cadre of witnesses concurrent to it, a multitude of converts following it, and a host of martyrs clinging to it for eternal hope. Many people—on one occasion, more than 500 of them—saw him. Others touched him. Others watched him eat meals. The deniers never revealed his “stolen” body to disprove the resurrection story, and even the false testimony of its disappearance corroborates what really happened. The bottom line is this: It happened. He rose from the dead. And that matters.

It matters because the resurrection is the core belief by which we receive salvation from him. We are saved by grace through faith in who he really is: the crucified and resurrected Savior and Messiah. And even in the saving act of baptism, we are buried with him and raised with him to new spiritual life (Rm. 6:1-5). The resurrection is the place where the discipline of apologetics overlaps the most with the discipline of evangelism, because “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins… [and] we are of all people most to be pitied.”

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Whole Picture

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Christians talk frequently about being awed by the created universe all around us. And it’s right that we would do that; the writers of the Bible often talked about the same thing (see Psa. 8, Rom. 1, Psa. 148, etc). So here’s the question: What is it that we appreciate? Is it the beauty of all that’s here? Or is it the intricacy and perfection of its workings? Is it the vast, enormous scale of it all? Is it nature’s power and the fear that causes in us? What one element of creation causes us to feel awe? It’s not one thing; it’s all of it.

When we understand God himself, we ought to be inclined toward the same kind awe. This is right, and it’s important that we have the humility to be properly wowed by him. But what is it about him that helps us with that? Is it his perfection and holiness? His goodness? His power and ability to destroy that instills fear in us? Is it his intense, burning, relentless love for us? Is it his humility and willingness to sacrifice himself for us? Is it his eternal nature—that exists outside the bounds of time? ls it the intellectual brilliance of his plan throughout all of history? What one element of God’s existence causes us to feel awe? It’s not one thing; it’s all of it.

Awe is a crucial emotion for an emotionally healthy person, and especially for a Christian. The awe that we sense upon knowing God is a powerful connection to him. It’s a bit of a struggle for us to wrap our minds around the totality of his existence and nature, but that struggle is not the problem—it’s the point. If we’re going to appreciate him as he truly is, then we’d better have our minds as open as possible to the depth and breadth of his whole nature.

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Tim. 6:15-16)

Prayers For All People

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

This past Sunday, I attended Northeast Church of Christ’s evening service, and I heard a brother offer a beautiful prayer for the specific members of their congregation. He took to the time to mention every member by name and pray for them according to several groupings of their life situations. He prayed for…

  • The children, from birth to about 12. He prayed for them to grow, to be healthy, to learn the truth, and to have hearts that desire God.
  • The teenagers. He prayed for them to seek the knowledge of God and to increase in maturity and make good decisions during that formative time of their lives.
  • The young adults, mostly in their 20’s. He prayed for them to have God-given wisdom as they are in college, graduating college, moving to new areas and new life pursuits, and deciding what their family lives will be like.
  • The parents and middle-aged singles. He prayed for them to endure in their faith and to step up to their responsibilities of being the examples that they should be for the younger generations, including their own children when God has blessed them with such a gift.
  • The older middle-agers. He prayed for them to have good health as their bodies are beginning to show signs of age, for them to have wisdom as grandparents and as the parents of adult children, and for their wisdom as they step into more and more influential places among the church family.
  • The old folks. He prayed that in their twilight years, they will receive the honor that they deserve from their families and their fellow saints, that God will give them health and comfort and vitality, and that they will have peace in Christ as they face the difficulties inherent to life’s later years.

I felt very encouraged as I listened to that prayer and joined my heart to it. It reminded me of a few core principles that ought to always define us as the people of God:

  • That our fellowship in Jesus is priceless. And the insights into each group’s lived experience that our brother from Northeast prayed about reminds us to think beyond ourselves and into the lives of others. It reminds us to be truly compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient, and forgiving with each other.
  • That “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working,” (Jas. 5:16) and that we ought to be praying like this brother did on a regular basis, both in public and in private.
  • That I must be praying for all of you. And since Sunday night, that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve prayed for you all by name and asked for all of God’s best blessings on you. Because I intend to love you with the love of Christ, and it’s my hope to hear that you are walking in the truth (cf. 3 John 1:4).

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” (1 Tim. 2:1)

- Dan Lankford, minister

He Will Carry You Through

Sunday, June 23, 2024

“I don’t like change.” “I don’t handle change very well.” “Change is always hard.” “I’m just not wired to do change very well.”

Life changes whether we like it or not. Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time for everything that happens under the sun; sometimes one thing, and sometimes its exact opposite. It’s just part of life.

In business, it’s brought on by demands of the market, needs of the workforce, unexpected expenses, employee turnover, and a gazillion other things. In families, it’s brought on by growth and aging, by health, by shifting income levels, by new time constraints or new freedoms, and a gazillion other things. Political powers change. Friendships change. Fashions change. We grow better and get worse at times. Even known weather patterns change. It’s just a part of life.

So why, if it’s definitely going to be part of our lives, do we struggle with it? I think it’s ultimately because things are out of our control.

When we sense change approaching, we often fear that something or someone (maybe ourselves) will lose or ruin something good. And we know we often can’t always prevent that. And so we fear that the change will be a net loss in our lives.

Now, to be sure, there is an element of wisdom to being consistent and unchangeable in some ways in our lives. But hopefully as God’s people, we have the spiritual and emotional maturity to realize that even though things will change around us and in us, God will stay side-by-side with us and see us through those things. The key to getting all of it right is to put our trust fully in God through the whole of life. As the hymn says, “He will carry you through.”

- Dan Lankford, minister

Tell to the Coming Generation

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
(Psalm 78:1-4)

The rest of that Psalm goes on to give a summary of a lot of the history of God and his people. All the way from Jacob to David, the psalm puts both the good and bad decisions of their ancestors onto the voices of each generation who would sing it. And it reminded them of God’s perfect faithfulness to them all the way through that long process.

I bring this psalm up because of how it correlates to Sunday’s sermon. Then, we talked about a family who had one figure far back in their ancestry that set them on a trajectory of knowing and serving God. And in Psalm 78, we find a writer who is trying to accomplish the same thing among Israel at large. He wants them to continue to appreciate God’s faithfulness and live out their own faithfulness to him, and so he has Israel singing together: “we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Sunday’s message was spoken specifically to the fathers among us, but let’s all take a few minutes today to think about our personal impact in the lives of the growing generation of Christians. How will you help to remind them of God’s glorious wonders and gracious deeds? What influence will you be in the lives of younger Christians? How will you help to keep the legacy of faithfulness alive and well among God’s people?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Living Life Skillfully

Monday, June 10, 2024

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

That bit of wisdom, attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, is engraved in the marble on the walls in the Library of Congress. It’s a reminder of the wholeness of someone who wants to live life skillfully. It’s good wisdom for anyone, and especially for Christians, who want to live life skillfully according to God’s wisdom for all cultures and times.

Reading is an important spiritual discipline for the child of God. When we allow it, God’s word will saturate our minds with divine truth, love, and wisdom. It gives us the vision to see the world, ourselves, and others as we truly are. It lets us hear from God himself.

Conversation—what Bacon calls “conference”—is also an important spiritual discipline. It’s in conversations that we practice articulating the truths of The Faith so that we become more prepared to “make a defense to anyone who asks” about the hope that gives us purpose (1 Pt. 3:15).

And when it comes to communicating doctrine correctly, I find that writing helps me achieve clarity more than anything else. Writing encourages us to choose words that are just right for the occasion, for the audience, and for the subject matter. With a subject matter as important as the Gospel, shouldn’t we want to communicate it with accuracy and care?

The skill with which we walk thru life will be greatly enhanced by these three disciplines. These are elements of how many of God’s faithful ones have lived with wisdom for millennia. Let’s learn from their wisdom and from God’s to do the same things today.

- Dan Lankford, minister

One Body; Many Members

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit."  (1 Corinthians 12:12)

In this chapter, the apostle begins to use an analogy that will help us understand how the church is designed to function. He places before us a human body, and draws lessons from it all through the rest of the chapter, as to its parallel with the functioning of the Body of Christ. It is more than a mere figure of speech to say that the church is the Body of Christ. God really takes that seriously.

That is where Paul begins. Just as the body is one and yet has many members, he says, so also it is with Christ. As men and women, children, younger and older Christians; we may have different functions, but in order for the whole to function, each part is absolutely necessary. I went over two months with a broken finger. My body was not whole and it limited what I could do. When a part of the body is not functioning, other parts of the body must do extra work. Without you, I cannot be whole; without me, you cannot be whole. God’s church is at its best when God’s children are joined and working together, united in Christ, supporting one another and growing as each part of the body does it work. At our church in California, we had an elderly gentleman that seldom said much—you would be amazed if you got whole sentence out him. But he was there any time the doors were open. What an encouragement just to see.

I have been asked many times while as a member of this family worshiping here by younger folks asking if they can be of help to me or asking how I am doing or feeling. That is encouraging or helpful to make feel a part of a family.  

The church is not just a group of religious people gathered together to enjoy certain mutually desired functions. It is a group of people who share the same spiritual life, who belong to the same Lord, who are filled with the same Spirit, who are given gifts by that same Spirit, and who are intended to function together to change the world by our actions. That is the nature and work of the church.

Picture a body in motion with each part of the body in sync with the rest, all parts working toward the same goal reaching toward the fullness of Christ.  It is important that we know each other, and we should all be trying to help each member feel important and help each other to grow and be even stronger.

"So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." (1 Cor 12:25) Division was a problem that the church in Corinth dealt with. We should ask the Lord to help us gain greater facility by working together. A body isn’t made up of a whole bunch of tongues, or feet, or hands, or eyes or ears; but instead it’s made up of a combination of each of the parts of the body—one of this, a couple of thes, and some of those. You see even though God insists on unity he complicates the matter by also insisting on diversity.

God didn’t make us identical at the first birth and I don’t think he intended to make us identical at the second birth. To listen to some people all Christians ought to look alike, dress alike, think alike, have the same haircut, read the same translation of the Bible, enjoy the same type of music and raise their children the same way. But using our individual gifts and abilities is what makes us complete. God gave us the family to grow together, to weep and rejoice together, so that we can grow in unity.

So the questions we should ask ourselves, whether young or old, male or female, are: "Where am I at?  What role I will fulfill? What member of the body I will become? What function will I perform?" How will you help to make the body whole and function together? As with any body, we grow with hard work, in service to others.  Some may think we reach unity and maturity through Bible study alone, however Paul says that attaining the fullness of Christ involves serving others.

- Tim Bormann, Northside church member
 

Tense Conversations & Wise Words

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

In the past 10 days, I’ve been involved in or overhearing close friends in conversations on the following topics: Pride Month, atheism-vs-Christianity, modesty, depression, Christians and martial struggles, Catholicism-vs-Biblical Christianity, and the current state of the Israel-Hamas war. I know I’m stating the obvious here: any conversation on those subjects has the potential for argument, tension, and hurt feelings. They are all places where emotions run high and opinions grow strong.

The combination of all of those has reminded me of the importance of our words. When we speak as Christians, we are called to always speak graciously, with words “seasoned with salt,” so that we have the wisdom to answer each person appropriately in a given situation (Col. 4:6). We’re told that having the thoughtfulness to say the right thing at the right time is like giving the gift of fine jewelry (Prv. 25:11-12). We’re told that speaking the right word at the right time will bring us joy (Prv. 15:23), and that refraining from speaking when it’s right to do that will help us just as much (Prv. 21:23). In any and every situation, Christians are called to be thinking people, so that we will answer in a way that gives true benefit to everyone who hears it.

I’ve been encouraged by the Christians that I’ve heard in these conversations this week. I’ve heard believers speak their convictions, respect the convictions of others, admit mistakes they’ve made, and resolve conflict in healthy ways. I’ve heard them speak up for the truth to others who were holding to spiritual and religious errors. I’ve heard them have the humility to say, “This is what I think, but I could be wrong” when it came to some of the topics listed above. I’ve been encouraged by their examples to speak with wisdom all the time.

I hope and pray that I’ve handled the conversations where I was involved with the grace and wisdom that I should have. And I pray that for all of us—that our speech will always be the kind of gracious, wise, truthful words that Christ himself would speak.

- Dan Lankford, minister

"In the Abundance of [Printed] Words"

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Normally, the world of academic publishing—the kind of thing that includes periodicals, peer-reviewed papers, and long, detailed studies on very specific subjects—doesn’t get the attention of the general public. Actually, if we’re honest, most Americans would rather read just about anything but academic journals and papers! But this past week, this was the news from one company in that industry:

Wiley, an academic publisher, has announced that it is closing 19 journals amid a massive influx of fake papers, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The publisher has retracted more than 11,300 “compromised” studies over the past two years. The Journal reported that at least two other academic publishers also have retracted hundreds of fake studies each.

Now, that’s an especially interesting series of events when the entire discipline of academic writing is set up specifically to prevent plagiarism and to make absolutely sure that only truthful, accurate information makes it to the printed page. But to find out that the mistakes, the corruption, and the lies are so widespread makes the shock that much more surprising.

It reminds me of this little bit of wisdom from Solomon: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prv. 10:19). Basically, Solomon was warning us that the more you talk (or, in the case of Wiley publishing, the more you write), the greater the chance that you will say something wrong. Whether that’s because you are deceitful, deceived, or delusional... it’s a problem that can often be fixed by simply measuring our words—saying, whether by spoken or written word, only things that we are sure are true.

So think about that before the next time you post or re-post an opinion about politics or society on social media. Think about it before the next time you point the finger at someone and claim to know why they did what they did. Think about it before the next time you presume to diagnose a problem in the life of another Christian. Think about it when you teach your children, when you teach outsiders, or when you teach a segment of the church family. Just stop and ask yourself, “Am I as sure as I can be that this is true?”

That academic journal let tens of thousands of articles go out into the public sphere that didn’t contain the information they claimed to contain. That record looks really bad for them. Don’t let your record end up looking just as bad.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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