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Taking time for rest... in the Law and in your life

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

This quarter, I've been teaching the Law of Moses. And it's been a great personal journey for me as I'm seeing greater depths of God's perfect plan than I've ever noticed before. The one concept whose depth has struck me more than anything else is the Sabbath concept. It's a powerful idea on so many levels, but the one that is perhaps the most helpful is the obvious one: the Sabbath causes us to rest.

Obviously, nothing in the Bible encourages God's people toward laziness (cf. Prov. 6:6-11), but there is plenty in the Bible that encourages us to take time with God and rest. Whether your day-to-day obligation is feeding and clothing kids, managing investments, cleaning windows, supervising a production line, or writing sermons... the workaday world is and should be important to us. But while that's true, we can't let that world consume our worldview. God's people need regular breaks to devote ourselves solely to the things of God, and we need to appreciate those breaks when they come.

Sunday worship is a time when our minds can rest in his word and his worship. Wednesday Bible study is very much the same thing. Personal devotions—times of reading & pondering God's word and praying to him—ought to have a place in every Christian's calendar. Elders and preachers need time to rest from their labors. Rest from toil is a healthy part of the life cycle of groups of people too; Companies, churches, families, or clubs all need time to settle our minds on what we're really all about (remember that God gave the Sabbath as a national idea). Vacations can sound like a very American idea, but there are Biblical reasons to see the value of a little R&R — rest (that's a biblical idea) and recreation (can you see the idea of re-creation in that word?).

So make sure that you take time to let your mind and your heart rest with God. Next week's holiday gives a perfect opportunity to do that. Make sure to take full advantage of the opportunity and give God sincere thanks for the blessing that it is when we avail ourselves of it.

Thank God for Jesus

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Our daily Bible reading program is nearing its completion. We have almost read through all the narrative sections of the entire Bible, and it has seen a lot of ups and downs.

One striking realization as we read through these stories is that all of the human characters are flawed in some way. We don't have to get all the way to Romans 3:23 to know that all humans have sinned and fallen short of God's glory—we have already seen that truth demonstrated many times over in the stories of humans and God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Samson, Naomi, David, Jonah, Peter, and so many others... They all live out the truth that humans are flawed and that our need for God's righteous deliverance is a dire one.

And that's what makes the story of Jesus the Redeemer so truly wonderful. He gave himself up on our behalf, "although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (Isa. 53:9) He "has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15) He is the first human character in these Bible stories who can be trusted to accept life on God's terms and let God perform his good will toward humanity. All others—including ourselves—have rebelled, but Jesus walked by faith in God's promises and in submission to God's kingship. And as a result, he is the reason that we can be saved from sin and from our own self-destructive choices.

Here's an activity that all of us can do to help us more fully accept the gravity of this marvelous story: Make some time to say a prayer that focuses exclusively on thanking God for Jesus Christ. With all the background of the story of lost humanity and God's grace upon grace sent to save us, take some time today to just say thanks to God aloud for the incredible gift that he has given us in Christ.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17)

- Dan Lankford, minister 

Face Reality

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Here’s a piece of practical advice straight from the Bible: It’s healthy to attend a funeral once in awhile (Eccl. 7:2). That’s not to say that it’s pleasant, but it is healthy for the young, the middle-aged, and the aged to face the reality that it presents us with. Namely, that life is finite. Everyone dies, and knowing that increases our consciousness of how we live (see Psalm 90:9-12).

It’s often not very fun to face reality, but God calls us to do it. He wants us to live with a firm intellectual grasp on the hard facts of existence. And there are plenty of areas where it’s necessary for believers.

  • Authentic confession and repentance of sin requires a hard look at what we’ve actually done with our hands and thought in our hearts. 
  • Godly family life requires a hard look at our own habits toward our spouses and our children, and it also occasionally demands that we face the reality of their lives (e.g. not making excuses for our kids, etc).
  • Biblical money management calls us to face the reality of how we use our money. Are we living beyond our means? Are we slaves to debt? Are we using money mainly for our fulfillment or for God’s things?

The list could go on for a long time, but our job would be the same for each item on it: to face the realities of life, the Bible, God, and ourselves and determine whether they match up as they should. It’s always easier to let life pass us by in a haze of half-awareness, but it’s always healthier to face reality and adjust to live a better life as a result.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Acts of the Lord

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

This week's daily Bible reading guides us through the book of Acts. This, along with the four Gospels, is one of the most important books of the New Testament. And while that might sound odd to say that some Bible books are more important than others ("They should ALL be important to us."), the truth is that the teaching in the epistles depends on the stories in the Gospels and Acts. Without the story of Christ, the teachings of Christ are robbed of most (maybe all) of their power.

And that's where we can see the great value of the book of Acts. It starts with these words: "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." Two things stand out about that introduction: 1) That the apostles were commissioned to carry the Gospel and Jesus' teachings into the world. It was now in their hands. But perhaps even more important for us to realize is that 2) the work they did was Jesus' work.

The book of Acts is not a departure from the stories of Jesus' life; it is a continuation of his story. While the Gospels told the story of Jesus' work on the earth, Acts tells the story of Jesus' work over all the earth. The power in the book of Acts is the same power at work in the Gospels: the divine power of Jesus that could not be stopped by persecution, could not be overcome by darkness, and could not be contained by death.

So as you read the book of Acts in the coming weeks, remember that its power is the same power that's been in the story all along. The power in the Story is that it all points us to Jesus, "the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt. 16:16)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Everyday Gratitude

Sunday, November 03, 2019

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

The routines of life can be very healthy for us. Routine exercise strengthens the body, routine communication blesses relationships, routine generosity increases our compassion, and a routine day of worship strengthens our souls.

But even healthy routines always come with an inherent challenge: we are tempted to become accustomed to things and take them for granted.

In daily life, one symptom of this is a lack of gratitude. While the Spirit instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances, sometimes the familiarity of each day deadens our spiritual senses to how grateful we could (and should) be toward God.

But every day is full of gifts from him. It is a gift to be part of a loving family. Moms & dads, our kids are gifts from God. It is a gift to have health enough to be independent. A stable job, a comfortable home, a civilized and safe neighborhood, the ability to learn, the blessing of good food… It can all seem so basic, but it ought to routinely nudge our minds to be grateful to the merciful God who has given it all.

And that’s why gratitude makes sense “in all circumstances.” Even small, everyday blessings are good gifts from our Father. And so while there are times when grander things make our gratitude swell, God’s people are defined by simple, everyday gratitude for his many blessings.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Excellence In Worship, From the Temple to the Pews

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Everything that we do for God should be done with excellence.

I have been reminded of this recently in studying about Israel's priests. God's commandments for them set a lofty precedent. The way they behaved, the way they taught the law, and particularly the way that they served in worship were all supposed to be of the highest level of moral and practical excellence. When they did not give their best, God condemned them strongly (cf. Mal. 1:6-14).

This is an easy lesson for us to learn from God's instructions for the priests: If he wanted excellence in worship from them, then he surely wants the same from us. So put thought effort into what you do in worship. If you will lead in a service, think deliberately about what job you will do, why you are doing it, and how you can do it best. Pray for God to help give you the right heart and the right abilities to glorify him. Learn from those who do things well, and imitate their skills. Above all, come with a mind set on rendering the quality of service which God deserves.

And even if you are not leading in worship, plan to give your best to God. Sing well, pray sincerely, eat his Supper with joyful gratitude, and have his word on your heart so that you can engage with it even more in Bible class. There are myriad ways that we can improve on our service to him. As he expected excellence from the priests who stood in his presence, we should serve with excellence as we stand in his presence every time we worship him.

- Dan Lankford, minister

re: the Golden Rule

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

In Sunday's morning message, I highlighted the importance of following the Golden Rule in our marriages. Then, when it came up in yesterday's daily Bible reading, I stopped and considered it a little more, because it is said and emphasized slightly differently in Luke's gospel than in Matthew's. So here are the verses and a few thoughts that struck me about them.

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:27-30)

The first thing that occurred to me is that Jesus' way of living is always going to be counter-cultural. This is the kind of passage that sounds great, but it doesn't feel like the proper thing in the moment. And it's not something that's easier for baptized believers than it is for unbelievers—we all struggle to actually live like he talks about in this passage. If someone takes our stuff, our temptation is to protect the rest of our stuff from that happening again—not to give more to the person who took from us. If someone wounds us, our temptation is create distance or emotional safeguards so that doesn't happen again—not to willingly turn the other cheek right into the emotional line of fire. It's a principle that is hard to live by, and yet it's what gives Christianity the power to turn the world upside down with such simple ways of thinking.

The second thing that occurred to me is that Jesus isn't just speaking in generic principles here—he's making specific commands. And that's something that convicts me. Because it's easy to say, "I should be willing to be generous, even when generosity is challenging." But it's a different level of difficulty when Jesus says, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back," and I know that is exactly what he means. The questions I have to answer for myself are these: Am I truly ready to give to everyone who asks something from me? Am I truly ready to let someone steal from me and not try to recover my stolen property? Most of my life, my answer to those questions has been no. But I have to re-evaluate that, repent of it, and make a change. And maybe you do too.

Living for Jesus is hard sometimes. But it's always worth it. May God give us strength.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God's Blessings For Those Who Seek God

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Here’s something you can take to the bank: When God’s creatures do God’s will, they receive God’s blessings. This was true of Creation. When God spoke (“let there be light,” etc.) and the universe obeyed, the narrative says, “It was very good.” And when God’s people followed his laws and lived by his wisdom during the time of David & Solomon, he blessed them with riches and power and influence. And when the church lived for Christ in the first century in spite of all the persecution they faced, he blessed them with love for one another, with peace in the midst of suffering, and with growth across the whole known world.

When God’s creatures do God’s will, they receive God’s blessings.

Let’s be clear: that’s not the same message as the Prosperity Gospel. That message says that if you do God’s will, he will give you good health and abundant wealth. It is self-serving religion for those who are seeking blessings. True spirituality is different.

First, the promises are not the same as the Prosperity Gospel. Look back at the examples mentioned above; God’s blessings come in many forms. It’s not all about health and wealth.

Second, and even more importantly, true spirituality is for those who are seeking God himself—not just his blessings. For those who find satisfaction just in knowing him, they will need no other blessing than that. But it is the nature of the God whom we serve that once we are satisfied to enjoy his love and do his will, he will open his hand with abundant blessings. You can count on it.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Better Late Than Never

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

You've heard that phrase, right? We frequently use it as an excuse for tardiness, but there's actually a true spiritual principle in it. Jesus even once told a parable which shows, as one of the many lessons that can be drawn from it, that it's better to commit yourself to live and serve your Master at a late point in life than to never come into his service at all (see Matt. 20:1-16). And we could think of many applications of the principle in the way that we live our lives:

  • Better to be a good spouse now, even if you haven't been for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Better to be a great parent now, even if you haven't been for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Better to be evangelistic to a friend now, even if you haven't for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Etc.

In all those cases, it's tempting to think, "Well, I haven't for such a long time… it would be weird or awkward if I started now." And I completely understand that temptation. But on the other hand, if you choose to do the right thing, even late in the game, it would mean that you are doing the right thing. And it's better to be doing that late than never doing it.

Like the workers in the parable, it is better for us to commit late to the right thing and still have time to be rewarded for that choice than to put it off forever and lose all of its possible blessings.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Ever-Present Temptation

Sunday, October 06, 2019

If the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil was going to be forbidden for Adam & Even, why did God put it in the middle of their world? Why not confine it to an obscure corner of the Garden where they were unlikely to find it, much less see it every day? If it had so much potential to cause their moral failure, why was it so eminent to their existence?

That tree shows us just how close we are to temptation in every part of our lives. It’s a sobering reminder that it is always possible for each of us to make a choice that will ruin us. And if you take stock of your daily habits and daily life, you have surely noticed that the urge to sin doesn’t ever fully go away. Even as time and faith make one sin’s allure begin to fade, another one begins subtly drawing us in. The tree is always in the middle of the Garden, and its fruit always looks at least a little bit appealing.

But let me be quick to add a preemptive correction that may prove helpful for some: the Bible does not teach that Christians perpetually live a hair’s breadth away from accidentally losing our salvation. In fact, in the Garden, while Adam & Eve were only one fruit away from death, the fact is that they did not eat the fruit by accident. God had told them what was right to do, and they chose to do otherwise. It was their choice to give in to temptation. And it is our choice too.

The tree was in the middle of the Garden, and it’s in the middle of our lives too. The choice between life and death is always before us. But God has told us how to choose life. Are you making the right choice?

- Dan Lankford, minister

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