It occurred to me last week as I was studying my lesson for our "Kingdom Leaders" class that one of the most important elements of leadership in God's church is prayer. Leaders—especially shepherds & ministers—must be men of prayer (cf. Acts 6:4, 1 Tim. 4:13). They should be men who constantly seek help and favor from God in everything that they and the church strive to do together.
In addition, a church who wants to be all that Jesus calls us to be should pray for our leaders. Someone has said, "A church will get the leaders that they deserve." And while that isn't exactly a quote from Scripture, it does make us think: have we asked God for leaders who will truly care for our souls? Jesus spoke for the Father and said, "Ask, and it will be given to you," and this is one area where we can have every expectation that God will give us what we ask for.
In the same sentence where the Holy Spirit reminded us to pray for our national leaders, he said, "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people." (1 Tim. 2:1) That certainly applies to the leaders of the church.
- Pray especially for the shepherds, the preachers, and the deacons.
- Pray for the shepherds to care about each soul individually.
- Pray for the preachers to understand the word rightly and speak it plainly.
- Pray for the deacons to be godly servants and teachers.
- Pray for their families.
- Pray for their physical health.
- Pray for their mental health.
- Pray for their integrity.
- Pray for their work ethic not to wain.
- Pray for their peace in Jesus Christ.
- Pray for their salvation & holiness as you pray for your own.
I know that you will, and I thank you for that.
- 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
The limited number of things that Jesus spoke from the cross have been the subject of much preaching over Christianity’s two millennia. The gospel writers record seven comments that he made during those six hours. Two of them are quotes from the Old Testament, and both have been in our daily Bible readings these past few weeks.
When he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, he was quoting from Psalm #22. And when he said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” he was quoting from Psalm #31. When heard from one hanging upon the instrument of his death, both seem to ring with a clear tone of defeat. And yet... In both of the psalms that Jesus quotes, the final assessment of the situation is more about hope and redemption than about death and defeat.
Psalm 22 begins by questioning why God is away from the psalmist, but it ends in celebration of the psalmist being drawn into the presence of God (read Psa. 22:22-24)! And while it may sound that his quotation of Psalm 31:5 is a sign of Jesus’ giving up, the psalm continues on to say, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness!” (Psa. 31:19)
Two observations here:
1) Jesus knew that in his death, the will of God was being accomplished, so his comments did not reflect his perspective on failure, but rather on the ultimate triumph of faith in an almighty, all-good God!
2) We may rightly lament our troubles—for they may be great—but we can always turn our eyes upon on the throne of God and find hope. As another psalm says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psa. 30:5)
- 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
This week unavoidably places several unpleasant realities on our minds. Floodwaters are still keeping thousands of people out of their homes in Texas, a violent hurricane has battered our Caribbean neighbors and is now a major threat to Florida, and tomorrow is the sixteenth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever in this country.
When the apostle Paul wrote one of his letters to our Corinthian brethren, he listed the major ordeals he’d faced in his lifetime, and then added, “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:28) Even if his own state of affairs had been good, the weight of what others were facing would have continued to put serious pressure on Paul’s mind. And while we might suppose that he could just ignore those concerns, he was not able to do that. Why? Simply because the well-being of those people mattered to him.
Such should be the case with us this week. It is a struggle to bear the weight of so much concern spread so many directions. It is perhaps an even greater struggle to carry so many concerns to our prayer closet and feel that we have fittingly addressed them all before God. Surely, there is a temptation toward deliberate ignorance—“If I don’t think about it, it’s like it’s not even happening.” But that mentality comes from selfishness—not true concern for the well-being of others. The godly see the better path is to face the facts instead of run from them. And when they do face life’s unpleasant realities, the godly are able to deal with them in light of the assurances of God—the only source of true, lasting comfort.
- Dan Lankford, minister
This week's major news headline is the violence and hatred perpetrated by many in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. It is disturbing to all truly spiritual people to see so much ill will demonstrated in such flagrant fashions. Here are a few thoughts from the word of God that will help us all to keep a clear vision of what has happened.
"The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell... It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." (from Jas. 3:6-12)
"There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." (Prov. 6:16-19)
"Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Gal. 23-29)
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also... You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45)
The year 2017 marks 55 years that our church has existed as "Eastland church of Christ" at our current location.
Looking back, there is a certain appreciation due to many who have led the efforts to live the Gospel, share the Gospel, and participate in the Gospel since that time. Many of the founding members of the church have passed away since 1962, but some of our current members have been part of Eastland from the very beginning. We are thankful for all—both those who are gone and those who remain—whose faith and diligence gave us what we enjoy today.
And looking forward, we have a tremendous opportunity to continue carrying the banners of truth and grace in our community. Every one of us can contribute in some way to make Eastland even better than it has ever been! And with the past's valuable legacy of faith as our foundation, we are in a great spot to continue to glorify God better and better in the future!
Our shepherds plan to talk about plans for that growth in the coming weeks. I hope that in the meantime, you will make it a part of your prayer life to thank God for the faith of those who have led us (cf. Heb. 13:7) and to pray for God's best blessings in the future of our church family!
- Dan Lankford, minister
The following thoughts were presented by one of our senior brothers to draw our minds to the cross before the Lord's Supper this past Sunday morning. They are shared here for their excellent quality of thought.
"Then he said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch.' He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And he said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:34-36)
I am sure that most of us can, in some small way, indentify with what Jesus was feeling. We have fallen to our knees in agony, praying to God, "Hear my prayer," or "You can do anything," or "take away this pain," or "lift this terrible burden."
Maybe we weren't even asking on our own behalf. Perhaps we were praying for a loved one, or a dear friend, or a child, or a companion or a parent. The fact that we were praying for another person hardly made the anguish any easier to bear. We may even have begged, "Father, if someone has to bear this burden, let it be me. Take it from that person and let it be me who bears it."
Usually, it is a great comfort knowing that God is almighty. But there are moments when that knowledges adds to the agony. "All things are possible for you." The question isn't "if God?" But "will God?" And that leads us to ask, "why God?" If God can, then why doesn't he?
This question has been a major stumbling block for those who do not believe. If God can end suffering, why doesn't he? If he is all-powerful, why doesn't he stop tragedy, or feed the hungry, or do something about cancer or aids? Why must men drink so deeply and so often from the cup of pain and suffering? I DON'T KNOW.
But we do know that at one great moment in history, the Son of God came to earth to take the world's burden upon himself. We know that he fell to the ground beside us in Gethsemane, bearing the pangs of impending doom and death in his heart. We know this Lamb of God wrestled in agony, despising the shame that loomed ahead, crying, "Abba, Father! All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me."
Above all this, we know that Jesus uttered his prayer in unwavering trust in the Father's will: he said, "YET NOT WHAT I WILL BUT WHAT YOU WILL."
His faith could hear a promised of glory despite the awful silence of God that weighed so heavily in the garden. His faith enabled Jesus to see beyond the grave to the joy set before him. And because of this, we know that when we fall to the ground in our Gethsemane, WE ARE NOT ALONE BUT HE IS THERE WITH US. Having overcome death, he sits at the Father's right hand making intercession for us.
- Jim Largen
Three times in the book of Genesis, Abraham rose early in the morning. In each case, he was seeking the will of God.
In Gen. 19:27, he rose early in the morning to see God's will accomplished against Sodom & Gomorrah.
In Gen. 21:14, he rose early in the morning to send Hagar & Ishmael on their way to make room for Isaac—the child of promise—to flourish.
And then in Gen. 22:3, Abraham rose early in the morning for what surely could have been the hardest thing he ever did in his life—the journey to where he would kill his own son.
From Abraham's example, I learn an important lesson about the vitality of a life that truly seeks God. When Abraham sought God, he sought him from dawn to dusk. On these days, even though it might be difficult, he began his day with a determination to see God's will done around him.
I want to encourage you to do two things. First, whenever you wake up, set your mind on the will of God first. Start with a focus on him before you give assent to anything else in the day. And second, try getting up an hour earlier than you have to [or staying up an hour later than you typically do (Psa. 119:62)] and giving the extra time to God. Pray, read your Bible, take a walk, or just meditate on who he is and who he calls you to be.
Let's all make a deliberate effort—to go out of our way—to seek the will of God.
- Dan Lankford, minister
While the Lord goes to great pains to emphasize in his Word that all believers are of equally great value in his sight, he does give particular attention in the New Testament to those who propagated the spread of the Gospel message. Those men and women—many of whom we would call “missionaries” today—willingly incurred personal risk and hardship in and effort to take history’s most worthwhile message “to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Christians of their era knew the power of God was at work in these brothers and sisters, and so they prayed for their success.
In Acts 4, after two of the apostles—Peter and John—had been arrested for teaching the gospel, the believers gathered to pray to God. And while they acknowledge the sizable opposition they face (Acts 4:27), they also confidently express their believe that God has been in control the whole time (v. 28). Their prayer, then, is for the boldness necessary to continue to teach the lost openly in spite of the opposition they face. And God answers their prayer with astonishing church growth through the rest of Acts.
Later, in one of his letters to Christians, the apostle Paul would request prayers for himself along much the same vein. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col. 4:2-4) Paul believed in the power of prayer. He knew how important it was to the spread of the gospel and to his ministry to fellow Christians. His prayer is primarily for two things: opportunity and clarity of the message.
Obviously, these prayers ought to be easily echoed by believers today. Our mission has not changed despite how much our world may have seemed to change. And so we would do well to pray for those whose life’s work consists of teaching the gospel to the lost. We would do well to pray for their boldness, to celebrate their successes, and to imitate their examples of faith. The message of the cross is the power of God to those of us who are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). Let’s pray for many, many more to receive that power!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist