Last week, Good Morning America ran a segment on protecting your kids from the influence profane language, from predators, and from various other immoralities that they should not be exposed to. Their focus was the digital realm—the internet and video games. And a good bit of the advice they gave was the kind of thing that Christian parents ought to take special note of.
They talked about getting filters set up on your home internet and your devices, about making sure that kids do not have access to the entire digital world from their own devices, and about specific services you can use to keep that kind of thing under control (link below). Two pieces of advice rose above the rest:
1) Even as you protect your kids from bad influences and temptations, teach them how to avoid and overcome the temptations that will inevitably present themselves.
2) More than anything else, parents must be involved. It takes some extra work for dad and mom to navigate these waters, and it's worth the diligence required of us to do it rightly.
Admittedly, it seems a little bit hypocritical to hear this advice from a left-leaning media network… one that occasionally promotes the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ agenda and other unwholesome ideas to kids in other segments and on some of its other channels. But in spite of the inconsistency, Christian parents ought to realize that if those folks can see the value in protecting children from unwholesome and dangerous influences while they are young, how much more should we be diligent in doing that?
*they recommend www.parentalcontrols.org for filtering/guardian options on video games*
The stories that we're reading this week sound like they could be from some sort of post-apocalyptic movie plot. A low-level politician is murdered by a mob, there is a certain degree of martial law, real justice is scarce, and everyone in the story is either part of the oppressive enemy or living in abject poverty. Is this what God intended life in the promised land to be like? Not. At. All.
The harsh reality of what's now happened to Solomon's powerful, wealthy, and respectable nation makes for a great demonstration of what happens to people who rebel against God. Think of how much they lost—culturally, spiritually, economically, politically. Lives were taken. Their national identity was destroyed. Even their land, a permanent home which once flowed with milk and honey, is now a desolate strip of earth playing host to people who are, for all practical purposes, homeless. And why did all of that happen? Because they rebelled against God.
Sin always comes at a high cost. Especially for those who know what God's way truly is, the tradeoff between God's goodness and sin's deception is never, ever worth it. The writer of Hebrews talked about that in a way that reminds us that it is never worth choosing sin when we know what God's will truly is. Take his words to heart, and stand firmly with God in your words, in your actions, and in your heart.
"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation." (Heb. 6:4-9)
- Dan Lankford, minister
“What do you do for a living?” It’s a standard question when getting to know someone new because our jobs have an important place in our lives. Working a job is not unique to Christians, but believers are called to work in a unique way. God wants us to do everything with excellence.
Paul instructed the Thessalonian Christians “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12) He told them in a later letter: “you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day.” (2 Thess. 3:7-8)
Our work—and the quality of it—matters to God. Whether we are employed to teach children, to prepare and serve food, to provide medical care, to build, to administrate, or to mediate justice… Christians ought to be diligent to do all things well, giving God the glory for our best efforts.
And so while it might just seem like good advice, the reality is that if we live out the good news, we will be reliable employees. We will be there when we are expected. We will not leave jobs unfinished. We will look out for the interests of others in the workplace. We will think about contributions we can make to our organization’s goals. We will be honest with our employers’ accounts (cf. Lk. 16:1-13). We will not be idle. As Christians, we will always do good work.
- Dan Lankford, minister
It's football time again everywhere. The NFL regular season kicks off next Thursday night, the NCAA season is already underway, and high schools everywhere are celebrating the start of their season this Friday (I'm in Alabama right now — football is literally everywhere). But while the games are just getting started, there is already a huge backlog of competitive sports' most important element: practice.
Practice and training happen in an environment where the pressure is low to build the skills necessary for the moment when the pressure is high. When the quarterback has to think fast and get it right, when a receiver has to read the ball and defense at the same time, and when a running back needs the extra boost of strength or stamina or speed... that's when the level of training is make-or-break.
The same is true for Christians. Your level of spiritual strength in life's crucial moments is dependent on your spiritual training in all the rest of your life. When the pressure of life and temptation are on, you depend on the strength you've developed in the moments when the pressure was low.
So make sure that you're training all the time. Put Paul's words to work: "Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Tim. 4:7-8) Spend time praying specifically about the temptations you face. Memorize scriptures that will be helpful in your life. Read the word often and thoughtfully. Keep a strong practice of attending worship assemblies. Work hard in life's low-pressure moments so that you're thoroughly prepared when the high-pressure moments come.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The check-engine light came on in my truck last week. And I did what I think most of us do: deliberately ignored it. When it came on, my first thought was, “Oh no. That could be something really simple and cheap to fix… or it could be something difficult and expensive. If it’s going to be costly, I just don’t want to know. So I’ll just pretend that I don’t even know it’s there.”
One of my college buddies once ignored that light in his car for over three years because he feared what it would cost to fix the problem. Over time, other problems developed. Eventually, when it became practically un-drivable, he took it into a repair shop. They told him that it could be fixed, but it would cost more than the worth of the car.
Do you ever find yourself doing the same thing with your spiritual life? Do you ever read a verse, have a conversation, or hear a sermon that alerts you to a life problem that you should fix? When that happens, what do you do?
Your conscience is like a check-engine light for your soul. When it’s trained by the word of God, it will alert you when something is wrong in your life—even if the problem is a small one. And when that happens, you have to decide if you will address the problem right away… or deliberately ignore it because it might be costly to fix. A word to the wise: your life will work like my buddy’s car—it will be more costly to fix the problem later. So address spiritual issues immediately. Don’t give a spiritual problem time to grow. It will be far more costly in the long run.
“Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jas. 1:14-15)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In this past week’s daily Bible readings, we read large sections of the story of Solomon. It’s a confounding story of what might’ve been: a king who rules God’s people with perfect wisdom but then squanders the chance to fulfill God’s whole plan for the kingdom. He seems to be rising at the same time that he is falling.
One place in the story which embodies this simultaneous rise and fall is in 1 Kings 10:23 thru 11:8. In one breath the writer of 1 Kings says, “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” This is great news! The king is a voice for God to the Hebrews and all nations! But in the next breath, the writer gives us the foreboding news that Solomon turned back toward Egypt and married many foreign women who turned his heart away from YHWH. And so the whole thing turns out only to be the story of what might’ve been.
Haven’t we seen the same kind of things happen in the lives of people whom we know? Someone becomes a Christian, and their faith seems to take off like a rocket. They are participating in church life, reading the Bible daily, and showing all the signs of total commitment. But then signs of spiritual weakness start to show, and soon their hearts are turned away from YHWH. It’s the same kind of life that Jesus talks about in his parable of a seed that grew up quickly in thin soil and then died out because its roots were weak. All of us need to be reminded: put your faith completely in God. Live by his wisdom. Don’t become a person whose faith might have been great.
One thing that helps God’s kingdom is the blessing of hearing truth spoken by different voices. Some would tout this as a good thing because they believe we should consider all people’s interpretations of Scripture equally valid. I wholeheartedly disagree with that rationale, but I maintain that it’s good for us to hear from various teachers. Here’s why:
No one person is capable of fully plumbing the depths of God’s written word. Therefore, our efforts to dive deeper into Scripture are enhanced when we work together—not to achieve various interpretations, but to achieve a more perfect understanding. I have inevitable blind spots in my search of the Scriptures, meaning that I overlook things—sometimes, important and even obvious ones. This is why I am constantly searching the Scriptures, but it is also why I need others to teach me. The word of God is complete, but my understanding of it will forever be incomplete, and so I need help.
The same is true for all of us. We all need make a regular habit of reading the word, meditating on it, and praying for wisdom from the One who gives to all generously and without reproach (Jas. 1:5). And we need to appreciate the value of hearing what other saints know of God’s will: whether that’s from the pulpit, in conversations over dinner, in Bible class comments, at devotions in our homes, as we talk on the golf course, or wherever. You may be able to teach another, and he or she may be able to teach you. In either case, we are all made better together as we live out the simple, but profound wisdom from Solomon: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last year, we talked about having the word of God ingrained in our hearts, our minds, and our lives. It has been awhile, so I wanted to remind all of us to continue pursuing and practicing these simple and powerful routines in our lives. Here are the spiritual disciplines that are highly effectual for ingraining Christ’s way into our lives.
- Prayer. When we talk to God, we build our relationship with him. We cast our anxieties on him because he cares for us.
- Self-examination and confession. It’s easy to go through daily life without ever taking stock of our own hearts. Time spent in honest reflection leads to several healthy realizations—some that spark gratitude and others that lead us to confess our failures to God.
- Fasting. Have you ever eaten so much that you felt sluggish? Sometimes, our hearts feel the same. Fasting helps us to put away the indulgences of our souls and focus on what we need most: God.
- Solitude & meditation. There is great soul-restoring value in quality time spent alone with God in deep thought about his things.
- Sacrifice & giving. Make a way to give in some way that blesses others. They benefit, for sure. But the greater benefit is for you, the giver.
- Study. Take your mind deep into God’s word. Ask questions and find your answers. Grapple with tough concepts. Challenge your personal thought processes against the truth of his word. As your mind grows in knowledge, your heart will grow in faithfulness.
All of these help us to pursue what we seek most: God’s righteousness. And when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled.
- Dan Lankford, minister
What's the most stressful game? Answer: the comparison game.
We all face the temptation to compare ourselves to others, and it never truly works out in our favor. We may compare our rise through the ranks of work to the speed of someone else's advancement. We may envy others' lives that we see on social media and are ungrateful for the good in our own lives. We may think of marriages that look wonderful and compare ours to theirs, leading us to feelings of inadequacy or jealousy. We are even tempted to compare ourselves to someone else's spiritual status, which never leads anywhere good (remember Cain & Abel).
Now, here's why this is the most stressful game: everyone who plays it, loses. Either, we end up sacrificing God-given peace because we're focused how we have achieved less, have been given less, or are worth less than someone else... Or, on the other side of the coin, we end up with feelings of supremacy over others, which is pride. When we look to the Bible, neither of those is okay.
So what's the solution? Stop playing the game.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to God's way. Do you do his will? Do you believe what he says? Do you pursue his kingdom and his righteousness? If you do, then all that you need will be added to you (Matt. 6:33). And that's not some kind of game. It's just a blessed life.
- Dan Lankford, minister
You are finite. You don’t have perfected skills in all areas. You will never have unlimited time. There is always at least some limit to the available money. Your energy is finite—everyone has to rest at some point. And you presence is limited—you can only be in one place at a time.
That makes the math pretty simple: If there is only one you and one me, then neither of us can be everywhere, doing everything all the time. And that’s true even when we want to do some of the good works that God created for us to do. The reality is undeniable: you can’t do everything. You and I are not God.
So is it possible to live life peacefully while knowing that you can’t be all-knowing, all-being, and all-doing—even in the areas where you feel that you should be doing something? Yes. But we have to make some tough choices. We have to prioritize things that are truly important and then let go of the less-important things.
And this is where the tough choices have to be made. Most of us intrinsically know what’s most important to us: our faith in Jesus, our families, and our own well-being. It’s easy to give something a higher priority; it’s harder to be at peace while letting go of the things that should be lower priorities. But that’s what must happen. Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
And when we do that, we can be assured that it will work. And you can have peace of mind when you make choices based on godly priorities… that he is working things out as he knows best. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28)
- Dan Lankford, minister