Sunday Family Report Articles
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
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
“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 the history of the Middle Ages, one can find a number of accounts of people who were sentenced to capital punishment in some sinister ways. The sentencer: the Catholic church leaders. The crime: translating the Bible into a language which could be understood by the general public. William Tyndale’s is the most memorable story of the type. He was hanged and then his body was burned for his translation of the bible into English in 1536.
I imagine most of us would look at the stories of Tyndale and others and think, “Of course the Bible should be translated! Everyone needs to know what it says! Why would anyone ever think it should be kept from people?”
Part of the reason for prohibiting Bible translation was to keep control of the things that would be taught. It is not difficult to see in the histories of that time that the man-made political system of the Catholic church did its due diligence to keep people from studying the Bible and seeing the true nature of salvation and Christ’s kingdom. This standing in the way of truth is certainly not to be commended. It was ungodly, impious, and sinful.
But another reason for keeping the Bible out of the hands of common man was the belief that the common man could not correctly handle the great truths of the Bible. And while we might look back on that line of reasoning and sneer at it, we would do well to ask ourselves if we are, in fact, correctly handling the word of God. When it cost Jesus his life to make the plan available, and when it cost the lives of others to make it available in our language; are we going to waste the beautiful blessing that it is? Are we familiar with the word of God as it truly speaks, or just as we would like it to speak? Are we lackadaisical in our approach to study and reading? Are we intellectually dishonest with the Bible? Are we reading it with humility and submission to the power of Christ, or not?
I would never advocate the idea that the Scriptures should only belong to a select, small group of people. But I do want us to all make sure that if the word of God is within our grasp, that we take hold and make the most of it.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
Some people are best motivated by caution. Public service announcements work very well to scare some people away from smoking, texting & driving, or other things like that. Warnings that make us afraid of dangerous, hurtful, or sad consequences stick with us and drive us to live safely, cautiously, and deliberately. We don’t think so much about doing more, but we do think about not doing things badly.
Some people are best motivated by reward. The possibility of a pay raise or a promotion drives us to excel, progress, or push forward. When someone shows a better way to accomplish something, we immediately gravitate toward the new opportunity to be better than ever before. We don’t think so much about playing it safe or heeding warnings, but we do think about doing things better than we’ve done them in the past.
In both cases, we tend to look at those who are motivated differently and think their outlook is flawed. So a caution-motivated person wonders, “Why aren’t more people taking these warnings seriously?” And a reward-motivated person wonders, “Why are people so bent on NOT doing stuff when there’s so much to be done?”
The Scriptures present us with the unique method of using BOTH types of motivation. And so we are warned to “look carefully then how you walk” (Eph. 5:15), and we are also encouraged that “we are not of those who shrink back” (Heb. 10:39). We are sternly admonished to “note then... the severity of God” (Rom. 11:22), and on the other side of the coin, one disciple talked about his reward when he said, “I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:8).
The Lord’s wisdom is shown in his appeal to all different kinds of hearts. This is why our teaching must follow his word so closely—so that it is not just up to us to decide how everyone should think, it’s his guidance that matters. And that’s why the Bible should be so important to each of us individually. Whatever it is in God's word that motivates you, hang onto it!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The lawyer asked Jesus a question. The question was, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus simply told the lawyer, “Do this, and you will live.” The next phrase in the conversation intrigues, astounds, and humbles me. The text says, “And he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
I’m humbled by that description of the lawyer’s motivation, because I have done and said quite a few shameful things when seeking to justify my sinful attitudes or actions. And I suspect you have too. See if any of these could apply to you.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” ignored the sin in his life—swept it under the rug in an effort to alleviate his guilt.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” attacked the person who brought sin to his attention in an effort to deflect blame and hide his shame.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” laughed about his sin and made everyone else laugh so that it didn’t seem so bad.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” looked for others—especially highly decorated or well-known people who practiced the same sin in hopes it would soften his guilt.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” stopped reading his Bible because it challenged his lifestyle, stopped attending church because it challenged his attitudes, stopped sharing his life with God’s people because they challenged his choices.
My grandfather preached a sermon whose title line said, “You can smash the barometer, but you can’t stop the storm.” He was right. We can remove all the indicators that we are living in sin. But we cannot change the realities of right and wrong. And we cannot change the reality of God’s will. We can look for all sorts of ways to justify our actions and attitudes, but only one thing truly justifies us: the blood of Jesus Christ.
- Dan Lankford, evangeslist
Resurrection from the dead is a common topic of discussion in religious circles. Any discussion between a Christian and a non-Christian must eventually come to this topic. Belief or disbelief in the resurrection is the single most pivotal step on the path toward the good confession of faith in Jesus. And that might seem like a natural conclusion for anyone to reach. It would seem that belief in Jesus’ resurrection should be easy. What could possibly hold someone back?
Consider some things one must accept to believe in the resurrection.
- Jesus is the only person to ever accomplish this. Others have been raised from the dead, But Jesus’s resurrection is literally on in billions. It’s difficult to believe.
- Jesus was formally executed under the Roman empire. Capital punishment under that regime is well-known to history as one of the most thoroughgoing and excruciating in any culture or time. To overcome such bodily trauma could be nothing short of miraculous. And it’s difficult to believe.
- Consider how difficult it can be—even with modern medicine—to repair a human body that still has the spark of life in it. Then consider the difficulty of repairing the body when it has had no spark of life for the past few days. It is truly an insurmountable task. And it’s difficult to believe.
- Consider the myths and legends that have arisen since the time of Christ about the difficulty and consequences of bringing someone back to life. Dr. Franken-stein’s attempt created a monster, and it was not even the same person he had set out to resurrect. All fictional stories of attempted resurrection eventually end in sadness.
Understanding all of this, it is no wonder that people have difficulty believing in the simple words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!” Science tells us resurrection is impossible. Medicine tells us resurrection is impossible. Fiction literature tells us resurrection is impossible. Even common sense tells us it is impossible.
And faith tells us that it happened! “He is not here! He is risen!”
- Dan Lankford
I watched an interesting show this past week. It was called “Brain Games,” and the particular episode showed the typical reactions people have to being mistreated by someone else. Typically, if someone is unkind to us, we will be frustrated and look for an opportunity to take revenge in some way. But the experiment also showed that if someone is exceedingly kind to us immediately after we’ve experienced unkindness, we are far less likely to seek revenge or payback on anyone.
As I watched that, I couldn’t help but think about the Holy Spirit’s exhortation for Christians to “let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5). If this were truly the way we lived our lives, we could expect to positively impact the lives of others. Christians should be the first ones stepping into the world to show exceeding kindness. We are the ones whose holy book says, “when you give to the poor…” and, “let your speech always be gracious…” and, “do not repay evil for evil.” We are the ones whom God has called to live like himself. And if he was willing to make the enormous sacrifices it took to show kindness to the people who had rejected him, should we not also be willing to swallow our pride whenever we can and show kindness in the world?
The striking thing about this whole idea is that my decision to show kindness to someone will likely impact the next person he meets as well. I do not mean to say that all the world’s ungodliness can be undone if we will all just be nicer, but it is worth noting that compassion is contagious. It will almost never happen on accident, but it does tend to spread if someone is purposefully showing kindness.
So let’s make a determination to be kind this week. Let someone over in traffic. Go visit one of our homebound members. Learn your waitress’s name and ask about her day. Give to the poor.
A little kindness goes a long way.
- Dan Lankford
Religion is always going to be a hot-button topic in this world, because we generally do not like to be told what to do or how to think. However, we are God’s people, and we are therefore going to be religious people. So it is imperative that we remember a couple of important things that religion is not and a couple of things that it is.
Firstly, our religion is not meant to be a cafeteria-style experience. Choosing a church primarily for its good music, its child-care programs, or its traditional feel puts the focus in the wrong place. We cannot choose a church like we would choose dinner off a menu—just looking for a collection of my favorite things. Our religion is not meant to be a cafeteria-style experience.
Secondly, our religion must not be a auditorium-style experience. It is admittedly much easier go to church and watch a performance of “church music” than it is to actually participate in the worship. Even among the many of us who worship with a cappella music in our churches, we must be careful that we do not choose this primarily because “I like the sound of a cappella so much better.” Worship is not meant to be a performance targeted at the audience.
In both cases, what you find missing is God. The cafeteria and the auditorium styles both glorify the worshiper—not God. Our efforts must be deliberately focused on bringing glory to God, the Father. It’s not a matter of impressing anyone or just finding what works best for me. Rather than asking, “What kind of experience do I want?”, let us ask, “What does GOD want from me?” And rather than choosing to watch a performance, let us determine that we will glorify God together.
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame…” (Psa. 25:1-3)
- Dan Lankford