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Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings

Midweek FR articles

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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

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

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

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

Denomination Or Not... The Real Issue Is Biblical Conviction

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

This past week, the United Methodist denomination became the latest religious body to change their position on homosexuality. Just about a year ago, the governing body of the denomination had declared that they would uphold the Biblical teaching about such matters. A year later, all of that was changed at a conference in Charlotte, NC.

Obviously, this has been big news, even in nationwide media sources. But for most Bible-believing, non-denominational Christians, the news isn’t really that big, since we have seen the way that so many denominations have been trending away from the Bible for decades. That, coupled with the mass exodus of many Methodists from the denomination in the past six months basically told us that this sort of thing was coming. For us, the big story is not entirely about the denomination’s decision, but about how it’s being reported.

Some news outlets have reported the change as “United Methodists lift 40-year ban on LGBTQ+ clergy” (USA Today). Another headline read “United Methodists begin to reverse longstanding anti-LGBTQ policies” (AP News). The verbiage being used reveals their belief that these doctrinal matters are just “policy” and that they basically only go back 40 years.

But faithful Christians know that these convictions are not just a matter of policy, nor are they only a few decades old. They are a matter of Biblical truth, and they go back to when God spoke them by the prophets and the apostles. As Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). They aren’t just political issues; they are issues of sin and righteousness, holiness and faithfulness. Regardless of our beliefs and the Bible’s teachings about denominations, let’s commit ourselves to standing on more than policy. May our stance be firmly rooted in the word of God as the ultimate authority for who we will be and what we will do.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Spiritual Third Culture Kids

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

The ancient city of Philippi was in northern Greece, but it was an outpost of Rome. I was a colony, designed and built by Rome with the architecture, customs, taxes, hierarchies, rulers, and laws of Rome. Everything about Philippi looked and felt like a mini Rome. The people who lived there were not considered Greek citizens. They were Romans, and they were proud of it (see Ac. 16:21).

Knowing that makes it all the more poignant when Paul and Timothy tell the Christians there, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Ph. 3:20). The people who heard that first were living in Greece, and their citizenship was in Rome. In the same way, Christians are living on Earth, and our citizenship is in Heaven. The citizenship doesn’t remove us from the place where we live, but it reminds us that our allegiance, our culture, and our identity are centered somewhere else. More than that, the apostle is reminding them that there is a highest citizenship—one that matters more than all others, and one that overrules all others. Even with the laws and blessings of being Roman, there were more important laws and blessings for those brothers—the ones that God gave.

The same ought to be true for us too. We are Christians, and our citizenship is also in heaven. We are similar to what has been called “third culture kids” — those who have been raised bouncing back and forth between two different countries, making them a child of both cultures in part, but neither culture fully. Our countries are the world and heaven. We are of this world because we’ve never lived anywhere else, but our heavenly citizenship contrasts heavily with our worldly identity. And we are living a heavenly lifestyle, but we must still interact with the world every day. We are spiritual “third culture kids.”

And yet, one of those citizenships defines us much more than the other. The Philippians were more Roman than they were Greek, and yet Paul called them to be more heavenly than either of those. And we must answer the same call: to live in both cultures simultaneous, but with our truest identity being the heavenly one, calling us to live for Christ as we wait for his return.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Their Faith Was REAL... Ours Better Be Too

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In this week’s daily Bible reading through 1st Thessalonians, we’ve seen an apostle’s description of what conversion really looks like. It shows us the remarkable power that plain Gospel teaching has—that through it, Christ will completely transform people’s lives and lead them out of darkness and into the light of a life lived for God.

Here’s what God saw from our brothers in Thessalonica as the process of their becoming our brothers.

  • “We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
  • “…you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
  • “…you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia (northern Greece) and Achaia (southern Greece). The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere!”
  • “…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven…”
  • “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.”
  • “…when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is — the word of God! — which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

The change that they went through wasn’t small, and it couldn’t have been easy, especially since they were all essentially first-generation Christians. And yet, it was this group that Paul, Silas, and Timothy wrote to with such affectionate and admiring words. Were they the perfected picture of mature, long-term Christianity and deep knowledge? No. But their faith was real, and that is what really matters to God.

Whether we’re new Christians or we’ve been around the faith for our whole lives, we must live, talk, and think in such a way that the same things could be said to commend us: that we too live out an example of active, life-changing, joyful, humble, Biblical, real faith.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Better Bible Reading

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tm. 4:13)

Have you ever noticed how it seems like people are always reading aloud to kids, but that it happens a lot less for grown-ups? As we grow, we become less accustomed to hearing stories, poems, and speeches read to us. We hear lines in plays and shows and movies, we hear song lyrics, and we hear people make presentations or speeches… but it’s much rarer that we hear someone read to us. I find that this is also true of the Bible. Whereas historical church gatherings were characterized by lengthy, thoughtful, well-practiced readings of holy scripture, modern church assemblies typically feature few readings, and usually only short ones. We typically give much more time and attention to someone’s commentary on a passage than on the text itself. The reason for this has typically been chalked up to people’s short attention spans, but surely when it comes to God’s own words, we can do at least a little bit better.

So how can we improve our general attentiveness to God’s words? I believe that it starts with better public readings. So, here are some tips for the men—both young and old—who read in our assemblies:

  • Read the text beforehand so that nothing about it catches you off-guard. Especially if it has difficult words or difficult names, think ahead and be ready for those so that you don’t fumble them.
  • Know what the main events are in the narrative or what the main points are in a discourse. Make a mental note if the passage is building one point upon another, contrasting two ideas, or has a growing intensity as it builds to its final point. In a narrative, notice what the most significant events are, when the story takes a surprise turn, or when the speed of the story accelerates and decelerates.
  • Let your voice reflect the feeling that accompanies each of those things. If a text is sweet and inviting, speak it with the gentleness that reflects that. If it’s a reprimand, let your voice reflect the sternness. If it’s a joyful concept, let the joy be felt in your tone. If it’s angry, let the anger be felt. Don’t be overly theatrical or dramatic, as it tends to cause the hearers to tune out. But a little emotional awareness goes a long way.
  • Do your best to read a text in such a way that its most basic meaning will not need to be explained when you’re done. I’ve often laughed when listening to my old sermons where I read a story from the Bible, then immediately felt the need to tell the story again. I’ve since realized that if I read the story well enough, my audience will catch its meaning. When all is read and done, your audience should also understand what God says on the first pass.

In our assembly on March 31, four whole chapters of the Gospel of John were read aloud, and they were meaningful all on their own, with little to no extra commentary. That can be the case with passages from all over the Bible as long as we take the time to prepare ourselves and we put in the effort to read God’s words well. Let’s take Paul’s advice to Timothy as a guide for ourselves, and ‘devote ourselves to the public reading of Scripture.’

- Dan Lankford, minister

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