Whenever I get the opportunity to baptize someone into Jesus Christ, my emotions are all over the map. It's a combination of sincere, heart-deep joy and panicky, clammy-handed nervousness. Here's why:
In the past, a big part of my nervousness has been over petty stuff. I get nervous about sounding silly or looking silly. Admittedly, I have an ongoing fear that I'm going to drop somebody in the water. Irrational and silly? Yes. But true? Unfortunately, yes.
But in my better moments, when all of that is gone, rather than fading, the disquiet is often even stronger. My heart races and my hands often tremble as I realize the gravity of what is happening at that moment:
- I'm witnessing the moment that God saves someone's soul from Hell.
- I'm seeing the moment that God transforms someone's heart.
- I get to be a spectator to death of the old life and resurrection to new life in Jesus.
- I'm witnessing God's forgiveness of a lifetime of sin.
- I'm watching as God fulfills so many of his promises at once.
- I'm right there as God breathes life into a person's soul like he did to the first man he created.
- I'm seeing a testimony to the fact that the Devil has been defeated.
- And I'm rejoicing with the angels that one more sinner has repented.
And as all of that starts to sink, the thought that is always in my mind is, "How do I say something that even comes close to describing this marvelous reality? How do I communicate how astoundingly powerful God has made this moment?" I know what I usually say. And I know what I will probably say in the future. But I also know that those words fall far short of the real significance of the moment.
So, until the power and splendor of baptism into Jesus Christ fades from the scope of reality, I guess I will have to continue being nervous.
- Dan Lankford, minister
This story is truly astonishing: in Thailand, a team of teenaged soccer players went for a hike in a cave they visit often, and a flash flood trapped them and their coach on a narrow ledge with nothing but the clothes on their backs. With incredibly diligent search efforts, it took 10 days for divers to find them. Once they were found, they were given flashlights, food, and letters from their families who were anxiously waiting outside the caves. After four more days, all of them were rescued by a complicated and very risky underwater extraction plan. They are in hospitals recovering, and all are going to be completely fine.
The story is compelling even if its details are told in a dry, facts-only way. It is dramatic, it is heroic, and it is so joyful!
It was interesting to note that news reports about the rescue efforts repeatedly emphasized the boys’ needs and how they were met: the first divers who found them gave them lights. Then they brought them oxygen so they could breathe. Then the rescuers brought them food. Then they brought them letters from family members.
And as reporters kept repeating those four things—light, breath, food, and family—I couldn’t help but see parallels to God’s plan of salvation. God came to us when we were stuck in darkness, and he brought us light (John 1:1-14). He brought us breath—the same Greek word which is translated “Spirit” in many places (Acts 2:38). He has told us about a family of people who care about us and wait to welcome us after our rescue (Eph. 2:19-22). And he has brought us food to sustain our souls eternally, calling himself “the bread of life” (6:48).
I don’t mean to sound like I think the events in Thailand these past few weeks were somehow orchestrated to demonstrate God’s plan of saving mankind. But if you thought that story was dramatic and joyful, how much more should God’s salvation of humanity excite us and fill us with joy? It is astonishing to fully realize how lost we are without him. And yet, it is even more astonishing to realize the herculean efforts which God himself has put forth to save each and every person. “you are… a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
- Dan Lankford, minister
*one additional parallel realized after initial publishing: the rescued boys were brought safely through water—an exciting parallel to 1 Peter 3:18-22*
About two months ago, some of our members met a disheveled-looking older man named John at an evening service. He sat alone on the back row near the media booth—if you're a member, you may remember seeing him if you think back. I’d like to tell you his story.
John was at the church building when I arrived to work one weekday. He was living in his car and had spent a cold night here in our parking lot. I introduced myself and asked, “What can I do for you?” His answer: “I was just wondering if I could have a cup of coffee and somebody to talk to. I haven’t talked to anybody in a long time.”
John and I had breakfast together that day, and I was impressed at what an intelligent and honest man he was. He quoted several poems (favorite poet: E.E. Cummings), great novels (favorite: Moby Dick), and ancient religious creeds (at one point in his life, he was a diligent seminary student). He was open about his past, about his current vices and sins, and about his current needs. And he shared a good deal about his family life and how he had gotten into the predicament where he was that day.
The most compelling thing about him was that he had deliberately created a distance between himself and his family—four siblings all living here in Louisville—because he felt unworthy of their love. And, as these things often go, as his life got worse, he believed himself less and less worthy of being accepted back among them. He had made no contact with any of them for over 4 years.
After we spent a long time together, I bought John a place to stay for a couple of nights, told him to clean himself up and get something to eat (it’s amazing how much good that can do for the mind and the heart), and gave him a Bible with Luke 15 bookmarked (look it up real quick; it helps the story). I encouraged him to read it that night, and I invited him to come worship with us on the promise that we would do our best to help him more then. At the service he came to, we were talking about the importance of solitude as a spiritual discipline. And although John had been alone for a long time, he told me later that the sermon helped him to see the difference between seeking healthy solitude and isolating yourself as he had been doing for so long.
So the next morning, John came to the church building and we called his sister with whom he was the closest. She and her husband both cried on the phone when they heard that he was okay (they had wondered if he was even still alive), and they asked is they could come meet him. After not having spoken in almost five years, they had a tearful reunion in our lobby, and some of the first words spoken were, “Come on, John. Let’s go home.”
The scene reminded me of Luke 15. A son who had gone astray was welcomed back home by those who love him. It showed a small glimpse of God’s love and his willingness to bring even the most ragged, ashamed, and broken spiritual son home into his family. And it showed what brothers and sisters should do when one of our own comes back from the prodigal fields—celebrate their return and enthusiastically welcome them among us!
Pray for John, that he and I can continue our friendship and that I can share the gospel more fully with him. And give thanks to God that he is willing to accept wayward sons like us into his home.
- Dan Lankford, minister
When the Lord called Gideon to do a great work in delivering the Israelite nation, he didn't call him because he had proven himself a great man of war. In fact, at that moment, Gideon was proving himself to be a scaredy-cat. And yet, God's first words to him were, "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor." (Judg. 6:12)
Why did God call him a mighty man of valor when it was so clear that he wasn't that? The key to the second phrase is the first phrase: "The Lord is with you."
If you are doubting whether you have what it takes to do the Lord's will today, be encouraged by the fact that God has given the same promise to us that he gave to Gideon. Paul frequently ended his letters with this blessing: "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." And he will be.
Whatever the will of God has commanded of you today, know that the Lord is with you and will give you the strength to accomplish it, even if it's very difficult. The Lord is with you.
- Dan Lankford, minister
This past week, I was blessed to sit and talk for over an hour with a brother who has been preaching for more than 60 years. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was actively engaged in debates over what has come to be known as “institutionalism” (if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, send me an email). One thing that he said stuck with me: “During that time, and for several years afterward, we considered that the most fundamental principles to teach someone were 1) that you must be baptized to be saved, and 2) the Biblical doctrines of church organization. Looking back, the fundamental lessons we should have been teaching them were about God—who he is, how he loves us, and then what he wants from us. Because once you know about God, you will have what you need to make all the right decisions about whether you will obey him.”
His realization about fundamentals seems to have been understood well by the Israelites, who based the spiritual education of their children upon the book of Leviticus—a book which describes holiness with instructions about holy things, holy places, and holy rules, which all belong to a holy God. In that, of course they taught their children the God-given laws of national organization, and yet they did so in parallel with the principles of God’s own holy nature.
This is further reinforced by Jesus’ reminding us of the most important commandment. In Mark 12, he said, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God...” The first principle—the one on which all other vital commandments are founded—is a statement of God’s identity and our responsibility to love him. Does this rob the teachings of church organization of importance? No. In fact, it gives them even more credence as they are fundamentally founded upon an understanding and love for the God who gave them. All of God’s teachings are important, and we believe that because we believe that God himself comes first.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Recently, I re-read the story of Jephthah. It is a perfect fit for the moral maelstrom that is the book of Judges. Here’s a little refresher on the story: Jephthah was called on to save the Israelites from an oppressive neighboring nation. He made a vow to God that if he won a big battle, when he arrived home, he would offer the first living thing that came out of his door. So, when his only child—a grown daughter—was the first living thing to come out of the house, he kept his vow and burned her on an altar to God.
Sound horrible? It is. And that’s why I started wondering: is that what he should have done? Was God pleased with that vow and with his keeping it?
The simple answer is: no.
I think I can say unequivocally that Jephthah should not have sacrificed his child, even if it meant breaking a vow to God. In reality, because of his stupid vow, he had no good options, but one option was clearly more evil than the other. Despite the fact that many of us have said, “One sin is the same as another; they’re all equal in God’s eyes,” the Bible just does not say that. There are times when we must choose between to evils, in which case we must always choose the lesser evil. Jephthah’s choice was between breaking a vow and shedding innocent blood, and he chose to commit the greater of those two evils. By contrast, when Rahab had to choose between lying about the location of the spies sent by God or giving them up to be killed, she chose the lie, knowing that it would mean their lives were preserved. And was she condemned for her infraction? No. In fact, the Hebrews writer commends her for welcoming them, which involved her saving their lives.
What’s the point? God values life. And though they may happen infrequently, when the choice comes down to a breach of morality versus a loss of innocent life, faithful people must choose the lesser of those two evils. The Holy Spirit said through Hosea: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6) Our lives should reflect the most important things to him: steadfast love for the innocent and a premium priority on preserving life that is given by God and created in his image.
- Dan Lankford, minister
When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Realities as old as Adam & Eve were suddenly rewritten. Death was defeated by life. Fear was defeated by hope. And darkness was defeated by light. And yet, it seems that God saw fit to announce this universe-altering event to only a very small audience—a few women who misunderstood it at first, and a few men who doubted it at first. And it begs the question: why would God not alert all humanity to the fact that he is bringing life? Why not give the nations an indication that fear has lost to hope? Why would God not at least signify to that part of the world that darkness was defeated by God’s light?
He did. The sun rose.
Every time that morning dawns, God reminds all creation that something new is being done. Every morning, he awakens life, quells fear, and banishes darkness with light.
As he created the world, each new level of his life-giving work was accompanied by the words, “there was morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). When Abraham was called to demonstrate how God would bring us life in Christ, we are told Abraham “rose early in the morning” (Gen. 22:3). When the Psalmist talked about the goodness of God, he said, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psa. 30:5). And when Jesus rose from the dead, even those who were unaware of what God had done in that Garden were experiencing God’s gift of new life as the sun rose too.
Dawn may be a daily occurrence all over the world, but that doesn’t take away from its significance in Jesus’ resurrection story. If anything, it adds to the daily significance of sunrise. The resurrection points us to what the daily dawn has always been showing us: that ours is a God who has always had a plan to bring us life with the rising of the Son.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Last night, I saw a documentary on the natural world which was scripted and produced from a Christian worldview, and it made all the difference in the world (literally). While the revelation of God is so much more complete in his written word, it is simply astounding to know that God is the creator and then to be able to appreciate the perfection of design at every level of the universe. From the polygonal shape of a virus molecule to the intricate mechanism of a grasshopper's jump to immense concepts of chemistry and radiation in our solar system... all of it works together in perfect harmony, from the most vast to the most microscopic. Not only is there a designer behind this universe, but he is really good at what he does.
Our brother Matt Robison also wrote a tremendous article on this subject yesterday (from which some of the above paragraph was drawn). I recommend it wholeheartedly, as it brings some solid Biblical perspective on the universe up against the deliberately godless philosophy of our day.
I hope you enjoy the read, and more than that, I hope that you can look around at the created world today and be awed by the God who "upholds the universe by the word of his power." (Heb. 1:3)
In the midst of his grander point in one of Sunday's lessons, I found a great deal of wisdom in one of brother Tack's short asides. Here's a quick reminder of his point and then a reflection on it from me:
To deviate to the right side of the path of faithfulness to God is to wander into legalism; the belief that you must be good enough to redeem yourself from sin and its consequences. And to deviate to the left side of the path of faithfulness to God is to wander into libertine religion; the belief that God's grace will freely cover even the sins we commit willingly—that we should continue in sin so that grace may abound.
Of course, neither of these is the God-given, Biblical path to redemption, and the reason they both fall short is a fundamental truth that both of them misunderstand in the same way.
What do both liberalism and legalism have in common? They both underestimate the horror of sin. Legalism purports that sin's contaminating power is small enough that I have the power to overcome it on my own. Liberalism imagines that sin is not really all that bad in the first place, so its consequences toward us are negligible. Both misunderstand the compulsory life-debt incurred by sin and imagine that it is something small.
Which leads to the other problem with both deviations from Biblical truth: by downplaying the gravity of sin, both erroneous philosophies trivialize the grace of God. It's either not necessary at all (the legalist), or it is just a cheap band-aid for a petty problem (the libertine). Neither is the case when we look at what the apostle Paul says about the grace of God.
"...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Rom. 3:23-25)
- Dan Lankford, minister
“I just don’t get poetry, and I really don’t like reading it.” It is a more common statement than one might expect. For many, poetry conjures up the mental image of coffee shops, overly dramatic expressions of emotion, and words used in ways that seem entirely incorrect at a first pass. Some poets seem to be deliberately confusing their readers. In fact, many of them are doing just that. And for those among us with a more analytical, literal, and legal-oriented personality, all of this can present some major challenges when it comes to reading the Psalms (our daily Bible reading path for the year 2018).
So what can be done about this? Are those personality types just destined to struggle forever with the Bible’s largest book? In some measure, the answer to that is “yes.” You may always have some struggles with the Bible’s poetry, but here are a few things you can do to enjoy them more:
1) In this year’s daily reading program, just buckle down and do the readings each day. As the days pass, you will get used to the Psalter and grow to like it more and more. Just don’t give up on the daily habit of reading.
2) Read out loud. Many of the Psalms were written for public worship assemblies, and many of them were written for private devotions. Both settings are good places to read the words of God aloud.
3) Look at how Jesus & the apostles read the psalms. Look for places in the New Testament where they emphasize the Psalms, and you will see their value alongside all of the Bible’s stories, teachings, and laws.
4) Even if you do not love poetry, continually look for the God whom you do love in every single Psalm. What do learn about him? How can you worship him better than ever before? Work through that filter, and the Psalms will inevitably begin to grow on you.
- Dan Lankford, minister