Sunday Family Report Articles
The question in the title of this article was asked to me in a Bible study recently. And as soon as I heard it, I thought, “What a great question!” What is grace? Specifically, what is God’s grace? What does it mean for us? What does it tell us about God?
I find it helpful to define grace by comparing it to mercy. Mercy is God’s way of “letting us off the hook.” It is his willingness to forego the punishment we deserve for our sins—the death that sin should cause in every life (Rom. 6:23). It was God’s mercy that allowed Jesus to die as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins and save us from death. The cross is God’s mercy, and praise His name for its power!
Grace, then, takes God’s mercy to an even higher level. Where mercy provides a stay of execution for all of us as convicted sinners, grace gives the blessing of brand new life in Christ. Grace is the abundant richness of God’s gifts to us. And so where God’s mercy foregoes the punishment we deserve, God’s grace goes above and beyond giving us every favor that we, by all rights, should never have received! Where the cross is God’s mercy, the empty tomb is his abounding grace to give life to those who believe in his name! And praise His name for the power of that empty tomb!
Grace, then is God’s above-and-beyond generosity in action. In it, he shows the true depths of his ability to forgive.
In 2007, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and killed 5 girls, aged 6-13, before turning the gun on himself. In the days that followed, the Amish community reached out to the killer’s family to offer mercy in the form of forgiveness and condolences for their own losses. In the days that followed that, the community showed immense grace when they set up a charity foundation for the killer’s family to pay for his funeral and to help his widow with whatever expenses she might incur after her husband’s death.
Of course, this is what God’s mercy and grace do for us. His mercy offers us forgiveness, and his grace gives us all riches to enjoy in Jesus Christ! Grace is not get-out-of-guilt-free card, but it is a powerful example of how good our God really is. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
As a year begins, we inevitably make resolutions to make the new year better than the old one. Whether your resolutions have to do with money, health, family, or spirituality, I would like to offer a piece of advice which I believe will help you accomplish more: Just do one thing.
Choose one thing that you want to accomplish in each area of your life, and center all of your focus on that one thing. If your goal is to be more fit, then make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing. If your goal is to have more financial freedom to help other people, make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing. If your goal is to draw closer to the Lord, make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing.
This concept — the one thing — is modeled for us in the life of Paul. In a letter to the Philippians, he said, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). Every decision had to be filtered through the lens of drawing closer to the prize of God’s upward call in Christ. His devotion to God was not one segment of his life or one division of his time, it was the entirety of how his thoughts and actions.
A professor at a Bible college assigned his class to graph the uses of their time on a pie chart. Assign the portion of each week that you devote to being a student, a parent, a neighbor, a civic leader, etc. “But,” he said, “Don’t put ‘Christian time’ on your graph. Because ‘Christian’ is what defines the whole graph.”
I hope that whatever your goals are for this year, that you can definitively say they fit into the singular idea of being a better Christian. And I hope that we can all take Paul’s view of the transition from an old year to the new one. “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
- Dan Lankford, minister
When Jesus spoke about anxiety in Matthew 6:25, he spoke of two common objects of worry. Number 1: our lives—the food we will eat & drink. Number 2: our bodies—the clothing we will wear. For those who do not have these things in life, the tendency is to worry about getting them. But for those who do have these things in life (as the vast majority of Americans do), the tendency is to worry about losing them. And this kind of concern is manifested toward far more than just our food and clothing. But there is a biblical balance that can offer relief from our anxiety.
When we are blessed with great wealth in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that wealth or misusing it. However, the Bible gives us this advice: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not... to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
When we are blessed to be married in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that marriage or messing it up. However, the Bible gives this advice: “Enjoy life with the wife [or husband] whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” (Eccl. 9:9) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
And, most importantly, when we are blessed to have a relationship with God in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend most of our time worrying about losing God’s grace or ruining his good favor toward us. It can become a temptation to spend our lives looking over our shoulders for God—wondering what trap he might catch us in at any moment of lapsed diligence. However, the Bible gives us this encouragement: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13) If you are the kind of person whose life is spent with an anxious view of God, please be reminded that he sincerely loves you. The fact that he came to earth as a man and died as a criminal tells us that more than anyone else ever could, God has loved every one of us. Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s awesome presence in our lives!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The apostle Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16). He knew the power of the word of God! He understood that the real power for salvation was not in himself and his ideas. He understood that the real power for salvation was not in a particular sect of Judaism or Christianity. He understood that the real power for salvation was not in the good deeds he might do.
Paul understood that the real power to save comes from God alone. And that power comes through the Bible—the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. This is why it is so imperative that we follow only the Bible’s teachings on what we do and how we think.
This past week, I had a tremendously enjoyable Bible study with two young men from the University of Louisville. They had recently visited our services, and so they asked about why we don’t use instrumental music. They knew some other people who attend a church whose sign reads, "Church of Christ," and their congregation sings a cappella. So when we examined what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about music in public worship, one of them said, "I didn’t realize it was a Bible thing. I thought it was a Church-of-Christ thing."
I was actually quite encouraged by this response. And there are two perspectives I would encourage us all to think about from this.
Number 1: If you are a guest with us here at Eastland, we welcome you. And we want you to know that we are an independent congregation. We are not part of any denomination. We simply do our best to follow the word of God—not to do anything just because "it’s a church-of-Christ thing." But because we, like the apostle Paul, believe that the power of God is found in the Gospel; not in ourselves. If you wonder about something we believe or practice, it's our goal to be able to show you that belief or practice clearly in what the Bible teaches.
Number 2: If you are a member of our congregation, please do not tell people that any of the things we do are done because "it’s a Church-of-Christ thing." If you do not know how a certain practice or belief is Bible-based, make it a priority to find that out! It simply won’t do for us to teach the world "Church of Christ doctrine" as though that’s what we follow anyway. The world needs to know the power of Gospel—the word of God. Because only that is the power of God for salvation.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Here at Eastland, we take the Bible very seriously. We study both the Old and the New Testaments in our kids’ and adult classes. All our sermons are based on Bible teaching. Our elders model their leadership on the model found in the Bible even though it is often different than the leadership models in the business world.
We do this because the Bible is the only standard measurement we have for spiritual truths. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). No other truth can be as powerful as the truth that comes from him the words of the Bible.
Because of this, when we study the Bible, we ask an important set of questions in a very important order. First, “What does the Bible mean?” Second, “What does the Bible mean to me?”
Both of these are crucial. We must know what God meant when he spoke his word or we may end up drawing the wrong conclusions about our lives. And then, we must determine how his spoken word is supposed to work in our lives or we have gained nothing more than facts. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). If we are going to live like God wants us to, we find out what the truth really means.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In the gospel of Luke, we find the story of Jesus’ healing ten lepers. He instructs them to go and show themselves to the priest, and as they are going, they realize they have been healed! Most who read this will know that only one of them returns to give thanks to Jesus for healing him, but I want to point out the nature of this man’s thanksgiving. He came back toward Jesus, “praising God with a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15). Then when he came near to Jesus, “he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks” (Lk. 17:16).
The contrast between this man’s thanksgiving and the other nine’s lack of thanksgiving becomes immediately apparent. The one man, whom Luke tells us was a Samaritan, is excited! He is shouting praise to God, and he exhibits one of the most sincere displays of gratefulness when he bows to Jesus’ feet to thank him. On the other hand, nine others who were healed just as completely as the Samaritan continue on the road of their life.
I do not imagine that the nine were trying to be ungrateful to Jesus. I do not imagine they were men whom we would see as having evil hearts. I imagine they were so happy with their newfound wellness that they could think of nothing but enjoying that wellness! Most likely, they did not intend to be mean by walking on, but they were so caught up in their own situation that they simply forgot to be grateful.
And I wonder how many times we have done the same thing. We have all seen a child who opens a very exciting toy on Christmas morning and immediately runs off to play with it; forgetting to thank the giver of that toy. I fear we must treat God the same way at times. When his blessings are so good—when God has given us exactly what we’ve asked of him like he did for the ten lepers—we may be so caught up in enjoyment that we lose sight of gratitude.
As an example of how we should rather behave, we have the Samaritan—the one who returned to give thanks. His loud voice and his falling at Jesus’ feet are not timid, restrained signs of a stoic appreciation of Jesus’ mercy. He does not send a thank you note nor give a handshake. He quite literally lays his life out before the Lord in thanksgiving for what has been given to him. It may not dignify the Samaritan, but it fully glorifies the Lord. And this is the kind of thanksgiving God deserves from us. He has healed us, freed us, and saved us. Let us never forget to fall at his feet and thank him.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces a long list of woes on the religious leaders and teachers of his day. In verse 23 of that chapter, he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
For many, there is a great temptation to interpret these words as meaning that we should not worry so much about keeping the “small details” of the law, but we should only focus on the biggest and most important things like love. We are told that Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that they put too much emphasis on the wrong things, and so we focus less on the details so the big picture is most important.
This interpretation, however, overlooks Jesus’ defining statement of the passage. He does not instruct his hearers to ignore any part of the law, but rather tells them to focus on the entire law. “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” While the Pharisees thought that the matters of the heart such as justice and mercy and faithfulness could be overlooked, and while many today believe that the “smaller” commands of God can be overlooked, Jesus’ point overrides both of them. The point is TOTAL obedience—faithfulness to God in both our hearts and in our actions. Nothing short of this is true service to him. Nothing short of this truly respects his authority and power. Nothing short of this truly understands what he has commanded from us.
Jesus made the same point in the Mountain Message. There he said, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). In the verses immediately preceding, he had informed his audience that he did not have any intentions of undermining the authority of the Old Testament scriptures. His intentions were, instead, to teach the multitudes about the true nature of the law which God had always intended. It was, from the very outset, a law to transform people on every level—to the deepest levels of the heart and the most minuscule opportunities for obedience to his commands. His calling is the same for us. Will we keep his law without neglecting any of it?
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
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
In Colossians 4, we find two short verses about a man named Epaphras. “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God…” (Col. 4:12-13). A few ideas stand out to me about the Bible’s short note on this man’s life.
Epaphras was a man of prayer. When we read that he “struggled” in his prayers, we can see a similarity to the way that Jacob struggled with God’s angel through an entire night because Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen. 32:26). Jacob’s struggle with God and Epaphras’s struggle in prayer both remind us that a relationship with God takes work. It takes focus to truly devote ourselves to prayer in the way that these two men demonstrate. How can you devote yourself to prayer in some similar ways?
Epaphras was a servant of Jesus. His life embodied the kind of selfless, continual sacrifice that true faith demands. He gave himself for Jesus, and he gave himself for other people. Our lives ought to be modeled on the same pattern—a pattern of serving Christ and then others with our entire lives. It is a pattern that mirrors the life of Jesus—a man who took it upon himself to do the job of the lowliest slave in the house. A man who took it upon himself to experience capital punishment for my selfish decisions. Epaphras was a servant like Jesus was a servant. How can you serve like them?
Epaphras was a teacher. In Colossians 1, we learn that he had been the initial one to teach the gospel to the people of Colossae (Col. 1:7). The fact that the Colossians were saved, the fact that they were maturing in faith, and the fact that they were continuing in service to God all began with one man’s efforts to teach the gospel to those who needed it. Are we doing the same? Are we sharing the words of Jesus? Are we sharing the simple message that all sinners need a Savior and we know who that Savior is? Are we teaching people about God’s answers to life’s greatest problems? Are we living the kind of lives that would be noted as people of prayer, people who serve, and people who teach?
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
“Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)
So far, there have been no perfect congregations of God's people. However, the Bible has a lot to say about churches that did God's things really well. And while we might wish that our congregation were a little closer to a perfect church, we would do well to remember that God has already blessed our church in so many ways!
When Paul said "let all things be done for building up," he was talking about what we do in group worship. And his point was that they would stop looking down on some and up at others among themselves as being greater or lesser for their "gifts" to lead the group in worship. The same point can be broadened for applications in other aspects of the church as well. When Paul said "let all things be done for building up," it was an instruction for us to value each other's efforts as all being valuable in their own turn.
When someone teaches our children in Bible class, although it might not be the 'perfect' way we would like it to be done, we talk about their efforts in ways that "build up" and create a positive attitude about class in both our children and the teacher.
When someone leads our thoughts at the Lord's Supper, although it may not be a flawless presentation with insights to rival the apostle Pauls, we talk about their efforts in ways that "build up.” So we focus on the positive in our conversations with that man and with our family about that man.
When the elders speak to us at any of our assemblies about something we need to hear as the sheep of God's pasture, we speak highly of their hearts for leading us, showing them “double honor” because of their great humility to watch over us. We focus on the positive in our conversations with them and about them.
On a related note: in a sermon about “Why Children Stay Faithful,” our brother Mark Roberts talked about a survey he administered to people who grew up around the church of God and then chose to live faithfully to God when they grew up. One of the overwhelming needs he discovered from that survey was for children to have a positive view of the church. This will largely come from the way they hear the grown-ups talk about the church. Let’s make sure they hear us doing all things “for building up.”
- Dan Lankford