A gospel meeting week or a VBS week or a week spent at camp all leave us with a high level of spiritual enthusiasm. People are tired, but still somehow energized. Special spiritual events leave us with a renewed sense of dedication and zeal about spiritual things. We often walk away thinking, either consciously or subconsciously, “I had forgotten how good we have it as Christians; I’m going to tell my neighbors and invite them to a Bible study.” Or we think, “I love this Bible-learning stuff! I’m going to re-double my efforts in daily reading so I can always be learning like I was this week.” Or maybe you walk away from a special event thinking, “I wish we could have events like this more often. They do so much for my spiritual walk.” I genuinely hope all of us can relate to this kind of spiritual excitement at some point of life.
I want to encourage a couple of thoughts about these spiritual high points. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with them. In fact, God created us so that our emotions and our wills would work in tandem. It is a good thing when our emotions help us to be more spiritually minded, and there is no reason to fight against its happening. There is no need to believe these emotional times are harmful to our faith. In Nehemiah, as the people were rebuilding the decimated city of God, we read that, “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Neh. 12:43).
Often, when we experience a spiritual high point like that, we assume that “This is how Christianity is supposed to feel.” And so we expect that when we renovate our spiritual practices like Bible reading and prayer, we will receive the same feelings. Let me exhort us to be very careful when chasing after what Christianity should feel like. The reality is that God talks very, very little about how we should feel as his people. He spends the vast majority of words on how what should be as his people. And this should give us great comfort in knowing that even when we feel sick, tired, depressed and when we feel exuberant, healthy, and excited… God can be praised and pleased in all those times.
Let me encourage you not to evaluate your spiritual life by the feelings it produces. Evaluate it by the teachings in the word of God. Are you living and making choices that would please him? Even if it doesn't feel like a high point, you may still find that your faith is acting at a high level.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
One thing that I love about Eastland is that we all worship together. I realize that might seem like an obvious thing to some, but here's why I think it's worth talking about:
In many churches, it is the common practice to remove the children from the main worship service and put them into a special "children's church" where they do things that are considered more "age appropriate" for them. This obviously creates less distraction for the adults in worship, but it means removing the children from where they can worship with their parents and the other members of the church.
Here's why we all worship together at Eastland.
Children need to be challenged with the word of God just like adults do. If the worship is challenging for our children, we parents must teach them to rise to the occasion—not lower the occasion so they are comfortable. If we remove the challenges of life and spirituality, how will they learn to rise to those challenges and overcome them?
Children need to be shown how to take worship seriously. I don't mean that they need to be shown how to be stoic in worship; I mean that they need to see what it looks like when people open their hearts and bow their heads to God. They need to see what it looks like when people sing about the gospel of the Lord because they accept and live by that gospel. They need to see what it looks like when we give something of value (and let's be honest, our money is valuable when we have a family to feed) to God because we love him.
Children need to see their parents' faith in action. Regardless of how hard we try, there will always be interruptions that mean we are not able to share our faith with our kids as fully as we want to in the home. If, when we go to worship, our children are isolated from their parents and again lose an opportunity to see our faith in action, when will they see it? Above all other causes, the main reason children leave the faith of their parents when they grow up is because they have never seen it in action. Children should see us worship, pray, give, read the Bible, help the poor, cry with a brother or sister, celebrate someone's repentance, and say "amen" when God is praised! Moms and dads, our kids desperately need that from us!
One thing I love about Eastland is that even with the potential for distractions and difficulties associated with having children in the worship with us, we still worship together. We share in the singing of praise together. We humbly bow in prayer together. We remember Jesus' cross together. We learn about his Good News together. It's an integral part of who we are.
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matt. 19:14)
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In some places throughout Scripture the nature of God is declared plainly, explained fully, or demonstrated undeniably. In the opening chapters of Genesis, for example, the fact that God is in control of nature is demonstrated by the fact that He created nature. 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 passages exist in some volume throughout the Bible, the entire Bible reminds us of these truths. Subtle reminders of God’s character are dispersed 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 this once in all of Scripture, but the concepts are by no means unique to this verse.
The fact that God sits on a “throne” demonstrates 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 above all. Simply by pointing out that He is on a throne, the Holy Spirit has reminded 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 a king who only demands to be respected; He is a king who deserves to be respected because of his grace and generosity. And while an earthly king can only be approached by certain people—those whom he chooses to allow—God the King approaches His people. He came down to our level with all of His blessings. He does not remain high and separated from His subjects. He is graciously willing to come to the same level as His subjects.
It is in this simple phrase that we are subtly reminded that our God is the perfect kind of ruler for us. A truly benevolent monarch with only our best interests in mind. He is a king who, despite all the reasons that he should not love us… loves us anyway! Brothers and sisters, let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace!
- Dan Lankford
There was another shooting on a college campus this past week. At a community college in Oregon, a man came onto the campus with multiple guns and sinister plans to kill. He killed nine people before he turned the gun on himself.
Perhaps the most harrowing part of the story is the account relayed by one student of how the gunman made people stand, then asked them if they were Christians, and then proceeded to shoot them if they answered “yes.” This story—shared by several major news outlets—got me thinking about my confession.
When I was a child, teachers in my Bible classes and devos would often ask me, “If someone held a gun to your head and asked if you were a Christian, would you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?” And in a moment of pure transparency, I admit that I hated the question because I thought that sort of thing would never actually happen. That’s the kind of thing that happened in ancient times or in countries where Christianity is against the law. And since the only country I knew of where that was true was China, I just planned to never visit China.
But that view was never correct. Even when I felt that way, there was still a chance that I would be asked to die for my faith. An Oregon community college is not the place one would expect these things to happen, but they did happen. And our lives are not where we expect that kind of thing to happen, but they may yet happen.
The solution to this is not that we would start looking over our shoulders and being suspicious of everyone as a possible threat. The solution is rather that we must put our faith in Jesus Christ when things are going well. The solution is to trust that even if someone wanted to take our lives for our faith in him, we would still be safe. The solution is that we must “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” But rather, we must “fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
This kind of ultimate trust takes a serious focus on the things we cannot see. It takes a serious determination every day to be true to him no matter the threats it may bring. And it takes a serious conviction that no matter what we face here, God is actually able to deliver us to something so far greater!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The pope's very recent visit to America was covered by multiple news outlets. One that caught my attention was the email headline I received from USA Today on Saturday. It read, "Pope Francis urges church to break down walls in Philly Mass; The city is the final stop in a pontifical happening that has lured millions of exhilerated fans." The last line is the most intriguing to me as it talks about the pope's millions of fans.
I thought it was an interesting and revealing choice of words. Because the Catholic religion considers the pope to be the cornerstone of the church, and his words are to be considered as carrying the authority of God. And yet his followers are not called "disciples" — they are called "fans."
I want to just encourage you to think about that difference today. Because while the pope can have "fans" (he is, after all, just a man), it is not okay for us to just be "fans" of Jesus. One writer asked the question, "Have you made a decision for Jesus or have you committed to Jesus?" There is a difference.
We are not called to just be fans of our favorite ancient teacher, but disciples of our Lord and Savior. Devoted. Driven. And defined by Christ in our hearts. How are you doing with that?
"...in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy..." (1 Pet. 3:15)
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
When you go to a football game, no one complains that the event feels to sportsy. When you go to a donut shop, no one complains that it feels too donuty. And no one complains that there is too much music at a concert. All of those are places where we know exactly what we are bargaining for and we should be aware of exactly what we will be getting.
This seems simple enough, but American religious culture has become enamored with the idea that churches shouldn’t be so “churchy” anymore. And so one writer confessed that he was unbearably bored with going to church. But he was not bored because the service was traditional or the hymns were older; he was bored with a service whose focus was purely on feel-good fluff and lacked any semblance of diving deeply into the word and will of God. The churches that bored him had great light shows, contemporary music, and a very funny preacher who told lots of great stories. So why was it boring? Because it lacked GOD.
The realities of the word of God—the realities of knowing God himself—are not boring. In fact, they are often quite challenging. This is why the church must be “churchy.” Because “the church” was purchased with Jesus’ blood. And as a result of that, it must be focused on Jesus. It must be centered around his will—the will that he shares with his father. When we remove that element of the church in an effort to make it less “churchy,” what help can we then offer to people who need to know God through Jesus?
I cannot convince you that something is good if I hide that very thing from you. If I want you to appreciate the greatness of Pavarotti’s voice, I need to let you listen to it. If I want you to appreciate the magnificence of my wife’s chocolate cake, I need to let you eat a piece. And if I want you to know the glory and splendor of the eternal God who sent his son to ransom many and bind them together in his church… I must show you him and his church.
“What if guests don’t come back because we’re too churchy?” In all honesty, there are plenty of people who won’t come to Christ. But that can never mean that we push Him aside for the sake of pleasing them.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
Today, I read Ezekiel 34 in preparation for my Sunday sermon. But I've barely done any prep for the sermon because I can't stop thinking about the ways that God describes himself here. I'm just posting vv. 11-31 for you to read. And I hope you'll be as moved by them—particulrly the last verses—as I am today. We serve a AWESOME God!
11 For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.
Ezekiel 24:11-31, ESV
“What good is faith? What good is Christianity?”
These two questions are indicative of a growing perspective in American culture. The thought is that faith is just a supplemental concept to add to the other elements of our lives. It is just one among many things that we may or may not find important. It is not necessary, and its only real benefit is if it makes a person a happier or better citizen. Otherwise, why should anyone hold onto the out-of-date moral requirements or the beliefs in superiority of one faith over another?
These questions are only fueled when we believers take our focus off of Jesus Christ. When we boil down our own faith to simply a system of rules or just an effort to be better social warriors, we have already let go of the greatest defining characteristic of Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong. I unashamedly believe that the Christian faith should make us better citizens. It should push us into striving for a better society. It must drive us to help the weak and the broken in our communities because that’s what Jesus did. I do not wish to diminish the gravity of those pursuits in the slightest.
But we, as believers, need to understand that faith does not stop with matters of improving humanity—whether others’ lives or our own. Faith in Jesus Christ causes us to look at bigger things. Things like the glory of God (see Psalm 29:2) and the promises of eternal life (see John 3:16) and the holy presence of a holy God (see Revelation 4-5).
Perhaps the greatest problem the church faces happens when we take our eyes off Jesus. I believe we have correctly emphasized the points of love and equality and service to others, but we have neglected to talk about the greater realities of eternity and resurrection and Jehovah God. As Jesus said, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23). It is not a matter of choosing one or the other—it’s a matter of emphasizing both.
Christ matters for the here and now. Christ matters for the eternal. Christ matters most.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In my prayer and meditation time this morning, there's just a lot on my mind. For example:
Today is September 11. When I heard the bad news 14 years ago, I was in English class at Dickson Middle School in Dickson, TN. My teacher said, "You all will remember today like your grandparents remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot." She was right. And I remember thinking, "How many people died this morning?!" Today, I'm praying for the people who experienced close personal loss and will be hurting today, and I'm praying for the people who are so misled by the false god of Islam. "God, I'm so thankful for Jesus. I'm so thankful for salvation and comfort I have in him. And I pray others can find those same things—that you'll use me to help more people know Jesus."
This week, I spoke at the funeral of a friend. He wasn't a long-time friend, but he was a loyal and devoted friend. He was one of our church members, and I only started getting to know him in April of this year, but I did not expect to be losing him so soon. The whole week has reminded—and/or taught—me of a few of really heavy things. 1) That faith in Christ and integrity really are THAT important, because death is real, Jesus is real, and that means judgment is real. 2) That it's important for me to enjoy the friendships and examples I have in my life right now, because they are blessings from God for TODAY. 3) I have a wonderful church family. Seriously, if you don't know the Eastland church of Christ, you need to get here and get to know them soon. I've never seen a church respond to the loss of one of their own like these people have. The overwhelming outpouring of support to the family, the amount of time spent in memorial, the depth of sadness and sincerity of hope in conversations, and the amount of time so much of the church has spent together this week just to support and love each other... It's been an amazing week, and it's made me so, SO thankful for them. "God, thank you for my friend, Jerry. I loved him, and I will miss him, but I'm thankful for him. And thank you for all that you've taught me this week. I know I am among your disciples because they love each other. Thank you."
This coming Sunday, if God wills, our worship will be packed with members and guests. Our members are working hard to bring in people with whom they want to share their faith in Jesus. And so... knowing that, I'm trying to come up with a lesson that won't use any gimics or false appeals... but will just show people the true nature of Jesus. We're going to talk about forgiveness, and the more I work on the lesson, the more and more and more I want to say... because forgiveness is SUCH a powerful blessing! "God, help me bring you to the forefront and me to the background. Let me be just the channel for your power to do the real work in people's hearts."
Did you see that video about "Christians" released by BuzzFeed this week? It was targeted to people who dislike or even hate Christians (a growing number in this country), and it's message was basically, "I'm a Christian, but I'm not what you think about me." I could write A LOT about the video makers' mistakes (and maybe I will next week), but the thing that bothers me the most is... it isn't about Christ. In fact, he isn't mentioned a single time. In fairness, God is mentioned... once. But the omission was so glaring that one of the first comments on the video was this: "I may be Jewish, but I still expected something about Christ in a video about Christianity. You could've replaced the word Christian with 'buzzfeed contributor' and it would have made no difference." This hasn't just bothered me because a worldly company made a video that misses the point of the gospel... I expected that. It has bothered me because of how many self-proclaimed believers only believe in a version of Christianity that lacks Christ. As the Jewish commenter points out, when you define yourself as a Christian, that means you have to define yourself by Christ. We (believers) are missing the point when we miss the theology (the nature of God) in Christianity. If it isn't about God first, it isn't going to last. BuzzFeed's watered-down, humanistic, self-centered version of religion won't last. Because it doesn't have Jesus, and it's therefore missing the single most crucial component of its uniqueness. And I wonder... is your faith mostly about Jesus? Is mine? "God, make me all about you. Define me by my salvation in you, my total dependence on you, and my complete submission to you. I need you, God. And I couldn't be more thankful that you love me."
That's the stuff that's on my mind today. We'll see how it all plays out when Sunday comes.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist