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
True story: Sometime around 1920, two of my grandfather's cousins got into a fight with another man after church on a Sunday morning. The fight quickly got so out of hand that the two Lankford brothers ended up shooting and killing the other man and their own uncle. They each spent 20 years in prison.
This past Saturday, I asked my grandpa about that story. As he retold it and filled in several of the details that I hadn't known before, he got into a melancholy kind of mood and started telling about other occasions of violence that he had known of in the surrounding rural counties from the 1880's into the 1940's. The most striking one was about a man who got on a horse, rode through town, and killed 12 people before taking his own life. And it made for a very sober connection when I got the news on Sunday of the two shootings in Texas and Ohio.
The stories Grandpa told don't lessen the sadness that I feel about what happened in this past weekend's events, but they do help to put it in context. He reminded me that acts of violence—even acts of mass violence perpetrated against innocent people—are not a new problem. In fact, in the history of the Israelites, there is a story of an act of mass murder perpetrated by two brothers (Genesis 34). The problem precedes any kind of weapon or type of communication forum which will be talked about in the news this week. Because the problem is as old as... well, sin.
What does that mean for how we respond to these situations? It means that we must continue to maintain this one belief: that the only comprehensive solution to these problems is salvation and redemption for all people, in Jesus Christ. And so we continue to teach that all people are made in the image of God. And because of that, all life is sacred. God loves every person and wants to see every person reach repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Murder destroys God's most precious creatures, and so more than anyone else, Christians want to see an end to sin, to violence, and to death itself.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last Monday's Courier Journal (Louisville's local paper) included a story (you can click here to find it in the Indianapolis Star) about a woman in her 50's, named Kim, who had been adopted to the U.S. as a toddler from a South Korean orphanage. You really should click the link and read the story, because it's a great one. But here's the short version:
When she was 5, little Kim got separated from her family in a crowded Seoul marketplace. With no birth certificate and no way to reconnect with her parents, the police assumed she was an orphan (there were many of those during that time; it was the Korean War era) and sent her to an orphanage. A family from Ohio adopted her, and she lived in the States her whole life since then. But then, in 2018, she took a trip to South Korea and a DNA test reconnected her with her birth parents—now in their 80's—who had continued to look for her all those years, never giving up hope that they would be reunited.
The story is touching, and for Christians, it has some really wonderful parallels to the hope that we have in an eternal Father God who never stops looking for his lost children.
The story adds a small ripple to Jesus' story about a lost son who was found. That son wandered away deliberately, and yet his father apparently never gave up hope that he would return. But in the story from South Korea, a child found herself separated from her parents by accident—through innocent ignorance, wandering away from them because she knew no better. And I think there must be a parallel in that to God's story as well: that there are those who are away from him and know no better (notice how many times the apostles talk about the "ignorance" of unbelievers). But God does not give up hope for them (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). And that reminds us of two things:
1) That would should be grateful that we serve a good God who doesn't give up, who continues to invite his wayward children to himself, and who is always willing to grant repentance and forgiveness through the power of Jesus Christ. He is a truly good God.
2) That we should continue to teach lost people about Jesus. They need him. They need to be reconciled to their father. Many are like the lady in the story: they know little-to-nothing about the Father they are looking for, but their hearts have a void that longs to be filled with knowing Him. Let's do our part to bring God's lost children back to their Father who has never given up on them, no matter how long they've been lost.
- Dan Lankford, minister
It's old news now (it's been about 20 days), but the burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame has continued to loom large in the minds of many people. There are several things that could be noted about it from the background of a Christian worldview. We could ask and respond to the question, "Why would Europe's extremely secular culture care so much about the accidental destruction of a religious structure?" Or we could consider the varying levels of response to the event by people in government, in media, and social media... and how those were or were not justified.
But more than anything else, I have thought over and over again about Jesus' promise to Peter: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)
I love that promise. Jesus' words remind us that our finest physical and organizational structures may fail, and we may weep when they do. But the church of Jesus Christ transcends time, space, location, and structures. Because the church is people. It is people connected through our eternal king, Jesus Christ, who reigns from Heaven, world without end (cf. Eph. 3:21, KJV). So while our finest work may crumble, burn, or fade into obscurity, the gates of hell will not overcome or destroy the people who are the church that Jesus built. And we can live every day with confidence because of that promise.
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Matt. 10:28-31)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Sunday morning, there were mass shootings in two mosques in New Zealand. It was yet another example of violence perpetuated by one who's heart was filled with hatred. Like a handful of similar events in recent years, these events somewhat take us by surprise when they happen in free, western, peaceful nations.
It is difficult (and probably somewhat unnecessary) to find anything new to say about events like this. Each time they happen, we are confronted by the the same kind of violence that has existed since Genesis 4, when Cain killed his innocent brother, Abel. Each time, believers see through the secular world's confused attempts to explain evil without believing in a divine power. Each time, we feel sympathy for the families of those who died, we mourn for any who died while in rebellion against Christ, and we remember that it was not God's original plan for us to die—that happened when we chose to sin against him.
And each time we see an event like this, we are reminded that God has made a place for us where "the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-5)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In the aftermath of last week’s shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, one news agency played a soundbite of a victim’s mother who said, “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers.”
In the aftermath of a natural disaster from a few years ago, one Christian tweeted: “When things like this happen, don’t pray. DO something.” Perhaps even more disheartening was the number of enthusiastic responses he received from other Christians.
Biblically-minded Christians are right to be saddened when we hear these things. We see the inconsistency in directing our hope to God and also refusing prayer. We see the inconsistency in another Christian’s thinking that prayer and action are contrasts when prayer is a most important first action in response to a major event. It hurts us to hear anyone—whether believer or not—belittle something so sacred and so wonderful as a prayer to the God of Heaven.
Because we know that it is more than a magic incantation to distance us from suffering. And we see that, even in moments of deep pain and deep outrage, rejecting prayer is not just a rejection of people who pray; it is a rejection of God to whom we pray. My hope for all of us is that we live and speak in such a way that the world becomes aware of how powerful prayer really is because they see how powerful God really is.
Far from being a simplistic distraction from one’s own pain or a heartless dismissal of someone else’s, prayer is how we approach God in our pain. It is a place to build and enjoy a relationship with God Almighty. It is—and it must always be—faithful Christians’ first response to wickedness and suffering in this world.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“Virtue signaling” is a term which comes from the psychological sciences, but has worked its way into mainstream thought where it describes those among us who loudly decry an injustice in society because everyone else seems to be doing that right now. It’s what happens when a person who has little conviction on a particular subject suddenly jumps on a bandwagon of outrage to be seen as a good person. And it is easy to see this kind of behavior if one looks for it. Whenever there is a call for public outrage, there will be those who have previously shown no concern but who suddenly want to appear that they are part of the virtuous crowd.
Christians may find this especially tempting because we are right to be appalled (though not surprised) by sin and its filthiness. But while we are right to denounce sin, we do not decry its presence because we want to be seen as good people. In fact, “virtue signaling” may be the modern word for this practice, but our Bibles use a much older word for it: hypocrisy. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:1) The desire to be seen and praised by others cannot be our motivation for spirituality. Our goal is to do the will of God just for His own sake.
Let’s do our best to just be good people. All the time. In every way. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see... and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Yesterday, USA Today reported that Chris Watts—a 33-yr-old man from Colorado who has confessed to killing his wife and two children—had been having an affair with a coworker and was planning to leave his wife. It was in the course of telling his wife about this that the situation turned extremely emotional, then lethal. Obviously, most people would never assume that a situation like that could turn so violent, but no one argues that his unholy sexual activity made the stakes incredibly high at that moment.
On the same day, it was revealed that one of the most outspoken proponents of the #MeToo movement is also being accused of sexual assault. Asia Argento—a woman who publicly and strongly criticized Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for the disgraceful conduct of which he was accused—has been ousted for her own unholy sexual behavior with a minor back in 2013. One major player in the whole ordeal called out Argento for "a stunning display of hypocrisy."
On the same day, the organization Planned Parenthood tweeted: "Students deserve sex education that is medically-accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive. This is not a radical idea!" If you were to familiarize yourself with their stance on a huge number of issues relating to sexuality and reproduction, you would find that their idea here is a very radical one. (You can click here to view my response to their tweet.)
These stories and that tweet capture the spirit of an ever-increasing problem in our society—one that most people have yet to realize is a problem. It is the problem of thinking that sexual fulfillment equates to happiness, and that sex somehow brings more happiness when it has been "liberated" from its classically-enforced bond to marriage. But liberating the idea of sex in this way is like "liberating" a fire from the fireplace into the rest of your house. In its place, it is a wonderful thing: it provides warmth, comfort, and serene joy in the home. But out of its place, it only brings destruction.
The apostle Paul said, "Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body" (1 Cor. 6:18). Christians, we must not only believe this for others; we must live it for ourselves. No matter how tempting it sounds to give in to our sexual urges outside of monogamous and heterosexual marriage, we must believe that God's way is always the best way. "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled" (Heb. 13:4).
- Dan Lankford, minister
Our shepherds announced on Sunday morning that we have hired two new evangelists.
Kristopher Sanders and his family will soon be joining our church for Kris to work as a full-time minister. Kris has been preaching here in Louisville for the past three years, and we are excited to have him working with us alongside Dan Lankford. He has a passion for teaching the lost, and we are excited to see the results of his efforts to reach out to our Louisville neighbors. The Sanders family are: Kristopher (Kris), Dekena (DeeDee), Roman, and Addison.
And Jon Bingham—one of our members—is taking on a new role of part-time employment with our church. Our plan is for Jon to focus on assisting with mission work. He will travel, especially in the summer months, to aid and encourage many of the men we are already supporting to preach the gospel in different states. We are thankful for Jon's enthusiasm, and we look forward to deepening the connections between the church and our missionaries through his efforts.
Our elders informed the congregation of these milestone decisions this past Sunday morning. And they did so squarely in the context of our continual three-part vision: living the gospel, participating in the gospel, and sharing the gospel. We believe that employing these men is the best way that we can utilize the abundant resources with which God has blessed us to take the good news of Jesus to our city and to the world.
Keep these two men and their families in your prayers as they jump into their labors in the Lord’s harvest field (Matt. 9:38). Keep our shepherds in your prayers as they work to keep us firmly rooted in a Biblical vision for the church. And keep our whole church family in your prayers that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16)
This past week saw the death of Alfie Evans, a two-year-old boy from the UK with a degenerative brain condition. His medical case received major media (and especially social media) attention for the following reasons: Alfie's life was only continuing with the help of life-support devices (ventilator, etc), and since his doctors believed that he would never recover, they decided to remove all life support and let him die.
That's very sad, but it's not the most interesting part of this case. Alfie's parents were adamant that their son's life be preserved, but the hospital staff refused to treat him according to his parents' wishes. The matter was taken to the British high court, who ruled in favor of the hospital, effectively removing all of the parents' rights regarding the life of their son. Alfie's life support systems were removed two Fridays back, on April 23, and he breathed on his own for five days before passing away last Wednesday, April 28.
There may be several things which we would rightly be concerned about in this case, but I will address only this one: as Christians, we should have some major concerns when society outright objects to the fundamental elements of the family unit. The most disturbing thing about this case is that Alfie's parents were legally prohibited from doing what they judged to be in the best interest of their son. Even when the parents' wishes were bolstered by support from the Vatican and the Italian federal government, the British courts doggedly stood in the way of their right to procure medical treatment for Alfie. One of my favorite preachers said just this past Sunday, "Parental authority is an indispensable feature of a society that is both stable and civilized." And he is right. This removal of parents' rights toward the lives of their own children should trouble people who believe in God's plan for the family (remember Eph. 6:1-4).
What do we do about that? Well, our votes may help to prevent the same problem in our country. Perhaps our common voice may be heard through social media and other outlets. Perhaps we can find ways that our efforts in sacrifice and giving (Sunday night's sermon) will help change the culture in this regard. All of those may have some value. But God gave us one instruction that will make a difference:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV)
Brothers and sisters, pray for all who have influence in our culture. Politicians, college professors, celebrities, parents, courts & judges, social media tycoons... Pray for all who are in high positions, so that we may perennially live in a peaceful society that still values the God-ordained importance of the family.
- Dan Lankford, minister