There is a major difference between our God-given responsibility to "build one another up" (1 Thess. 5:11) and our presumed ambition to "keep somebody humble." The reality is that no human can truly make another human humble. We can humiliate someone, but that is not our scriptural responsibility. We can discourage someone, but neither is that our scriptural responsibility.
The scriptures put your responsibility for humility squarely in your lap. "Humble yourselves before the Lord," said the apostle James (4:10). So it is each one's job to keep himself humble in his attitude before God, and it is the each one's job to honor his brother in the Lord.
It is with this in mind that I would encourage you with a couple ways to show honor to the leaders of your church. 1 Timothy 5:7 says, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching." So here are five things that our shepherds need to hear from us on a regular basis—ways to show them the double honor of which they have proven themselves worthy.
1) I pray for you. The weight of responsibility God has given them is great. We all need to pray for them regularly, and they need to know that we're doing that.
2) I trust you. Humans have a tendency to distrust anyone in any position of authority, but this human tendency must be overcome within the church. Yes, they will make mistakes. But we need to trust that our shepherds' desires are only to do what is best for the church always.
3) I pray for your wife. She needs your prayers, too, and elders need to know that the members do not treat their wives as some group of “others,” but as dear sisters who need our prayers.
4) I think our future is bright. Elders are frequently hear from us about how things “used to be.” Many conversations with them begin with "back when we were..." And while that certainly has its place, the elders need to know that you think the congregation has a bright future by God's power. They need to know that we see the value of their vision to draw us closer to God.
5) Thank you. Long hours, heart-wrenching prayers, and sleepless nights are the parts of the work that most of us do not see. And yet, it is obvious that our Eastland shepherds give in these and many other ways. Let's be sure they know how grateful we are.
Obviously, our shepherds did not ask me to write this brief exhortation. These are some ideas I recently encountered and wished to pass along. I believe all of these ideas are eminently Biblical as they help us fulfill God's direct commandment to show honor to our leaders.
- Dan Lankford, minister
This past week, I read an essay which presented a contrast between some of Christianity’s character truths which are traditionally understood as feminine (gentleness, caring, meekness, etc.) with the traditionally understood virtues of manhood from virtually every culture in history (toughness, dependability, struggle to overcome, etc.).
The essay was exploring answers to the question, “Is Christianity an inherently feminine religion?” And the writer’s conclusion was correct: Christianity does call us to uphold the finest examples of gentleness, caring, and meekness; AND it calls us to uphold the finest examples of toughness, dependability, and the struggle to overcome.
Christianity, it seems then, teaches each gender to fulfill the very best of its own created nature. While some of the characteristics may seem, at first glance, to be mutually exclusive (toughness & gentleness, for example), the single religion of Christianity purports to teach them all simultaneously. How is this possible?
The answer to that question goes back to what the Bible teaches about origins. “God created man in his own image... male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Since the whole of humanity is made in the image of God, it naturally follows that the whole of image of God should be able to be seen in us. Just as any invention bears the fingerprints of its designer, humankind bears the fingerprints of our divine Designer. And so our very natures as men and as women are hard-wired in by the Almighty.
This means that we are all responsible for giving the BEST exhibition of our respective natures. Women who truly seek God will strive to be the finest example of God’s nature created within them. Men who truly seek God will strive to be the finest example of God’s nature created within them. Is Christianity a feminine religion? It is not that alone. It is a religion for both men and women who are made in the image of God to fulfill the best of their God-given natures by his power. Do you want to be a godly and feminine woman? Strive to be the kind of woman God calls you to be. Do you want to be a godly and masculine man? Strive to be the kind of man God calls you to be.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
That question, all by itself, may be one of the most reassuring sentences in the whole New Testament. It reminds us of God’s protection, of the value he’s placed on us, and of the eternal hope we have against the devil and the world.
But the reality is… anyone can still be against us as Christians.
ISIS is a radical Islamic group who are especially against Christians. Our culture’s naturalistic, secularized values system is set against Christians in many quadrants. And closer to home, many believers throughout the history of the faith have had family or fellow church members against them. And those even overlook the biggest threat which is “against us.” The devil himself is against us to destroy us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8).
Yet, even while there are many who can still be against us, the question is really asking: “If God is for us, who can be against us that actually matters?” And the answer to that: NOBODY. God’s promise to be with us absolutely trumps the power of anything else that would attempt to take us down.
Let secular agendas come. Let persecution come. Let famine come. Let betrayals come. Let threats come. Let suffering come. Let the future come. Let death come. Let the devil himself be against us. In all of it, the Lord is with us. And no level of opposition matters against him.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The early-1900’s President, Woodrow Wilson, was praised in his day for making short speeches on the floor of Congress. And yet, they were still full of powerful ideas and solid leadership.
A friend asked him, “How long does it take you to prepare one of your speeches?” President Wilson—who did write his own speeches—responded: “That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want… I am ready now.”
When studying the gospels, it has often struck me as odd that all the writers seem so economical in their accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his whole 28 chapters, Matthew devotes just half of ch. 27 and half of ch. 28 to the greatest events in human history. Luke—who writes the longest account of Jesus’ life—gives less than 45 verses to the whole ordeal from crucifixion to resurrection. And even of the cross itself, in Luke 23:33, he only says, “they crucified him.”
And yet, although it might seem as though they have sort of glossed over the most powerful and important events in history, the rest of the New Testament plainly shows that they haven’t! Because the rest of the New Testament is based primarily on these succinctly recorded events. All faith, all hope, and all the best kinds of love… All of them are based in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Those three short days are God’s short, but powerful speech—they are the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. And in spite of its brevity, that Gospel’s power comes largely down to the length of time it took to prepare. Just as a great, short speech will often take LOTS of preparation work and time, God’s brief execution of the Good News that can save all mankind took over two millennia to prepare.
For more than two thousand years, God moved with relentless determination toward one terminal event. He moved mountains and shook nations to make this one event happen…
…at just the perfect time.
…in just the perfect place.
…among just the perfect people.
…and with just the perfect results.
You can’t help but be impressed by the fact that God’s Gospel—for all of its eternal and universal scale—is an essentially simple and succinct idea accessible to everyone. That Jesus Christ—the son of God—came to earth in the flesh, lived a life free from sin, died as a sacrifice to atone for your sin, and was raised to defeat death forever for you. And he offers you eternal life with God in Heaven.
Do you want that?
There is more good news that he offers the way to receive it. And, like the Gospel itself, it’s a simple and succinct transaction: the act of baptism.
The time required to be baptized is very little, and the spectacle may seem underwhelming to many. But with the proper preparation done—with the heart softened by the good news of Jesus—baptism is the most powerful transaction for a person with faith in God.
Do you want to do that? Contact us, and we'll be glad to baptize you into Christ and share our walk of discipleship with you!
- Dan Lankford, minister
The title above is the definition of the word specious. It is a word which can be used to describe several common philosophies on life:
- A specious philosophy: “If you want to be happy in your marriage, you’re going to have to train—and usually demand—your spouse to give you what you need. You’ll have to be the boss.”
- The Spirit says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord… Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph. 5:22, 25)
- A specious philosophy: “If you don’t hold onto every penny that you get, you’ll be broke and unhappy. Hoard all forms of wealth, and keep them all to yourself.”
- The Spirit says (in a passage where he wasn’t only talking about church contributions): “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6-7)
- A specious philosophy: “People will know you’re a person of strong faith by the ways you mostly point out others’ mistakes in their attempts to live rightly before God.”
- The Spirit says: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father,” and “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Matt. 5:16 and John 13:35)
There could obviously many more of these contrasts. One of Satan's best tools is to make that which is obviously harmful appear to be a good idea. One of the many great blessings available to those who love God with the whole mind (Matt. 22:37) is the ability to understand the real problems of Satan's specious arguments and the real blessings of God's perfect plan!
- Dan Lankford, minister
Our blind spots are almost always in places that are closest to us. When driving, your blind spots are right beside your car—close to you. When you hold a still infant, he’s often too close to your own eyes to determine if he’s asleep or awake without asking someone else. And in fact, you’ve never seen your own face directly. You’ve only seen pictures of yourself in mirrors and on cameras. You are blind to the part of yourself that is closest to your eyes.
The same often happens in our view of spiritual things. The areas in which we see ourselves the least clearly are often those which are closest to us. Our family relationships—are we truly devoting ourselves to God in those relationships or are we blinded to our own attitudes and actions because we are emotionally close? With our money—are we truly devoting ourselves to God with it or are we blinded because we depend on it so much for happiness? Even with our eating habits—are we truly devoted to self-control for the glory of God or are we blinded to that ourselves because “that’s too personal to let religion meddle with it”? (An older preacher told me about preaching a sermon on gluttony. Afterward, a congregant approached him and said, "Now you've quit preachin' and gone to meddlin'.")
This principle applies across humanity. We are more likely to be blind to our most dearly beloved assumptions about life. A deeply patriotic man may have difficulty keeping a clear perspective on Christ’s kingdom that is not of this world. A naturalistic man (one who believes nothing supernatural exists) will likely have difficulty seeing what is otherwise clear evidence of a Designer in this God-spoken world. It is these heart-deep assumptions that are the most difficult for us to clearly analyze.
It is my prayer, then, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened to see ourselves more clearly in view of God’s glory. It should be the prayer of every Christian that we are willing to become vulnerable enough and to trust God enough to let his light into EVERY blind spot of our lives.
- Dan Lankford, minister
A cursory glance over several New Testament passages which emphasize our speech will reveal that God intends for us to choose our words deliberately.
- In the opening verses of 1 Corinthians, the apostle gives thanks that God's grace enriched their knowledge and their speech. (1 Cor. 1:4-5ff)
- In 1 Corinthians 2:4, the apostle reminds that his words were intended to convey the words of the Holy Spirit—the kind of speech with true power.
- In 2 Corinthians 8, as the Spirit pleads for those Christians to excel in generosity to needy brothers, he commends their excellence in speech, among other things (2 Cor. 8:7ff).
- In 1 Timothy 4:12, one of the antidotes for being despised for one's youth is to set an excellent example in the quality of his speech.
- To Titus, the apostle said, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of... sound speech that cannot be condemned..." (Titus 2:7-8)
- And in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
It becomes very apparent that this matter matters to God. And it matters in a couple of ways.
Firstly and obviously, it is important that Christians do not speak in ungodly ways. We are not to be blasphemous nor hateful nor untrue. We are not to be judgmental or unnecessarily harsh with our words. We are not to speak curses toward other people. These regulations are evident.
Secondly, and perhaps less obviously, the New Testament perspective on our speech means that we must speak with great thoughtfulness. From the above passages, we are given the impression of someone who speaks slowly and intentionally in order to get just the right words across. This intentional nature of our speech is what leads to excellence in it (2 Cor. 8:7). It gives us the carefully filter our own ideas out of the way and speak the words of the Spirit clearly (1 Cor. 2:4). And it sets us up to speak graciously in high-pressure, high-stakes, or high-intensity circumstances because we have made it a practice to speak graciously in every circumstance (Col. 4:6).
One specific application of this idea: we must work to communicate God's will clearly. It is natural to think of this as a preacher's goal, and it absolutely must be. But it is only his responsibility because he is a Christian and ALL Christians are commissioned to communicate the will of God perfectly as we can. When we flail our way through conversations about the cosmic concepts of redemption, grace, sanctification, holiness, and theology with careless words and haphazard statements of judgment on others... we are not helping anyone see the things of God more clearly. Mark Twain famously said, "The difference between any word and the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." It takes diligence and humility to speak the oracles of God with a clear mind and a clear conscience.
The way we talk about God matters. It matters to our fellow saints, to the lost world, and to God himself. As Christians, it's time we put in the mental work that is required to communicate God and godliness clearly.
- Dan Lankford, minister
It seems that the best gift in any relationship is fellowship. It’s the gift of sharing something—thoughts, experiences, passions, or just time. It is one of the defining elements of Christian-to-Christians relationships that we share Christ and the Holy Spirit and thereby have fellowship with each other.
Today, remember that this is the best gift you can give to dad too: share something with him. And especially make it a point to share your time with him if there’s any way you can. Dads are often encouraged to share time with their kids (Eph. 6:4—you can’t bring children up to maturity without a serious time commitment), and the same encouragement ought to be heeded in the other direction.
So give some serious consideration to how you could spend some time with your dad in a way that he would appreciate it today. Play a game that he enjoys, watch a game that he enjoys, go somewhere he likes to be, talk about one of his favorite subjects, find one of his old favorite TV shows on YouTube and watch it with him, talk about a great book you’ve read, or ask about his favorite memories from when he was a kid.
If at all possible, do your best today to “honor your father” (Eph. 6:2) in some way. A gift that he can open is definitely a good thing, but give it a little extra thought, and you’ll probably be able to think of a way to share a little more and to instill some fellowship in your relationship.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In some places throughout Scripture the nature of God is explained in-depth. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the fact that God is in control of nature is demonstrated by the fact that He created it. In the book of Exodus, the fact that God can redeem his people is demonstrated His freeing them from the slavery of Egypt. In the book of Leviticus, the fact that God is holy is seen in the holiness He demands from his people.
But while these isolated passages exist, it is the entire Bible that reminds us of these truths. More subtle reminders of God’s character are peppered through so many other topics.
Consider a phrase from Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” The phrase “throne of grace” is only used here, but the concepts are by no means unique to this verse.
The fact that God sits on a “throne” shows His kingship. He is sovereign. He has sole reign of all that He has created. He gets to make the rules, and not only because He demands to be in charge, but simply because He IS in charge. Simply by pointing out that He is on a throne, the Holy Spirit reminds us that God will always and must always have authority.
And the fact that God’s throne is one of “grace” illustrates one of the balancing aspects of His kingship. He is not just a king who demands to be respected; He is a king who deserves to be respected because he is so gracious and so generous. And while a king can only be approached by certain people—whom he chooses to allow—God the King approaches His people. He came down to our level with all of His infinite blessings. He does not remain aloof from His subjects. He is graciously willing to come for us.
It is in this simple phrase that we are reminded that our God is the perfect kind of ruler for us. A truly benevolent monarch with naught but our best interests in mind. My brethren, let us then with confidence draw near to his throne of grace!
- Dan Lankford, minister
The gospel calls for our obedience with a broad range of emotional and intellectual appeals. It calls us to obey out of fear (Rom. 11:22), out of love (John 14:15), out of feelings guilt (Rom. 5:6-8), and out of a sense of duty (Rom. 13:11-14, discussed below). I believe this broad appeal is partly due to God's unsurpassed understanding of the human mind and his desire to call everyone to repentance. But I believe the main reason we find so many varied types of appeals is that the gospel fulfills all of our deepest needs, and consequently, it can call to us on all of our deepest emotional and psychological levels.
In Romans 13:11-14, the Holy Spirit calls us to get up and get ready. It is His "bugle call" rousing us from our lazy oversleeping in our tents. He calls us to put on our armor and get into the battle against the evil one! Our spiritual battle is happening now, and we must charge into the fray!
Notice the phrases he uses throughout to paint this picture:
"the hour has come for you to wake from sleep" (v. 11)
• Every soldier and every emergency responder understands that intense situations do not come at our conveniences, and so we must wake up—take action in the present—to fight for the Lord's glory and overcome.
"the night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness... Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." (vv. 12, 13)
• When it comes time to fight the enemy (in the present), don't go AWOL and be carousing and drunk with the pleasures & ease of life or caught up in brawls caused by your own arrogance so that you can't respond to the enemy. A good soldier can enjoy himself, but he stays sober-minded & dressed for battle.
"and put on the armor of light" (v. 12)
• Again, a godly soldier is dressed for battle. Ready to defend himself against the enemy and ready to make offensive advances for the cause of his God.
"put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (v. 14)
• Our enemy is the temptations of the flesh. And while we must make some battle provisions before marching in, it simply does no good to provide the enemy an opportunity to overcome us. So we dress ourselves with the armor of light—put on the Lord Jesus Christ—and we carry the necessary tools to fight against the devil. But we carry nothing that might slow us down or give our enemy the upper hand over us.
The fight for the gospel is an urgent one. The bugle call is sounding now. Are you going to sleep lazily in your tent? Or are you going to get moving right away and do what needs to be done?!
"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (James 4:17)
- Dan Lankford, minister