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A Sweet Reunion

Sunday, June 10, 2018

About two months ago, some of our members met a disheveled-looking older man named John at an evening service. He sat alone on the back row near the media booth—if you're a member, you may remember seeing him if you think back. I’d like to tell you his story.

John was at the church building when I arrived to work one weekday. He was living in his car and had spent a cold night here in our parking lot. I introduced myself and asked, “What can I do for you?” His answer: “I was just wondering if I could have a cup of coffee and somebody to talk to. I haven’t talked to anybody in a long time.”

John and I had breakfast together that day, and I was impressed at what an intelligent and honest man he was. He quoted several poems (favorite poet: E.E. Cummings), great novels (favorite: Moby Dick), and ancient religious creeds (at one point in his life, he was a diligent seminary student). He was open about his past, about his current vices and sins, and about his current needs. And he shared a good deal about his family life and how he had gotten into the predicament where he was that day.

The most compelling thing about him was that he had deliberately created a distance between himself and his family—four siblings all living here in Louisville—because he felt unworthy of their love. And, as these things often go, as his life got worse, he believed himself less and less worthy of being accepted back among them. He had made no contact with any of them for over 4 years.

After we spent a long time together, I bought John a place to stay for a couple of nights, told him to clean himself up and get something to eat (it’s amazing how much good that can do for the mind and the heart), and gave him a Bible with Luke 15 bookmarked (look it up real quick; it helps the story). I encouraged him to read it that night, and I invited him to come worship with us on the promise that we would do our best to help him more then. At the service he came to, we were talking about the importance of solitude as a spiritual discipline. And although John had been alone for a long time, he told me later that the sermon helped him to see the difference between seeking healthy solitude and isolating yourself as he had been doing for so long.

So the next morning, John came to the church building and we called his sister with whom he was the closest. She and her husband both cried on the phone when they heard that he was okay (they had wondered if he was even still alive), and they asked is they could come meet him. After not having spoken in almost five years, they had a tearful reunion in our lobby, and some of the first words spoken were, “Come on, John. Let’s go home.”

The scene reminded me of Luke 15. A son who had gone astray was welcomed back home by those who love him. It showed a small glimpse of God’s love and his willingness to bring even the most ragged, ashamed, and broken spiritual son home into his family. And it showed what brothers and sisters should do when one of our own comes back from the prodigal fields—celebrate their return and enthusiastically welcome them among us!

Pray for John, that he and I can continue our friendship and that I can share the gospel more fully with him. And give thanks to God that he is willing to accept wayward sons like us into his home.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Among People Who Love Our Lord

Sunday, June 03, 2018

I have been especially encouraged about the condition of God’s church this week. I hope that you have too.

My family and I spent the first part of the week with a church in Cleveland, TN (near Chattanooga). They asked me to preach a series six lessons from Sunday to Wednesday. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, they asked if we could meet an hour earlier and have two lessons each of those nights. And it was such a powerfully encouraging thing, because I knew they were not interested in hearing me—they were there to hear the Word.

Those four days were also characterized by several long conversations that went deep into questions about who God is, group behavior of God’s people, and various ones’ personal walks with Christ. In many ways, we spent more time in the word while out of the pulpit than we did while I was in it. And again, the encouragement that brought was powerful, because we saw God’s people hungering to know him. And when they saw truth in his word, they rejoiced in that.

And all of it reminded us of our immense gratitude for our Eastland church family. Because the mentality behind those experiences is the same mentality we experience here all the time: a hunger to know God’s ways and genuine joy in learning them. We found ourselves frequently talking about how much we love you—our church family—and how much we look forward to coming home every time that we’re away. And it just reminded us what a joyful thing it is to be among people—both away and at home—who love our Lord.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Light Of The [Social Media] World

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Like everything he or she does, a Christian’s use of social media must be governed by the wisdom of God. Jesus’ instruction to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16) applies as much in what you share as in how you speak. So here are a few considerations for those of us who use them to do that in a way that fits with a living faith:

  • Above all, be clearly Christian in your social media presence. Comment with language that is appropriate for Christians. Refuse to post, like, and share pictures that are inappropriate. Speak out about cultural matters with a Christ-like humility & conviction. Show gratitude (cf. Rom. 1:21) for God’s blessings. Care about the lost, the isolated, and the downtrodden. If the real you is Christian, let the digital you be equally Christian.
  • Share truth. If you are going to share your beliefs about current events, public figures, or cultural matters; do so with thoughtfulness, prayer, and a humble desire to spread truth. Don’t find yourself regretting the speed with which you jumped on a trending bandwagon that turned out to be utterly vain or false.
  • Share truth (it’s in here twice for a reason). Any tool for communication can be a tool for evangelism in the hands of a Christian. That is often awkward, but it is a great way to be the light of the virtual world.
  • Encourage others. For all the complaints many people make about digital interactions being less personal than face-to-face, your digital voice can still be and encouragement to others. (It can be particularly helpful in the cases of Christians who have left the faith and rebelled against God.)

Plenty more guidelines could be given, but even these simple ideas will help us if we are serious about being people of faith in all areas of life.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God Himself Comes First

Sunday, April 29, 2018

This past week, I was blessed to sit and talk for over an hour with a brother who has been preaching for more than 60 years. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was actively engaged in debates over what has come to be known as “institutionalism” (if you’re unfamiliar with the idea, send me an email). One thing that he said stuck with me: “During that time, and for several years afterward, we considered that the most fundamental principles to teach someone were 1) that you must be baptized to be saved, and 2) the Biblical doctrines of church organization. Looking back, the fundamental lessons we should have been teaching them were about God—who he is, how he loves us, and then what he wants from us. Because once you know about God, you will have what you need to make all the right decisions about whether you will obey him.”

His realization about fundamentals seems to have been understood well by the Israelites, who based the spiritual education of their children upon the book of Leviticus—a book which describes holiness with instructions about holy things, holy places, and holy rules, which all belong to a holy God. In that, of course they taught their children the God-given laws of national organization, and yet they did so in parallel with the principles of God’s own holy nature.

This is further reinforced by Jesus’ reminding us of the most important commandment. In Mark 12, he said, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God...” The first principle—the one on which all other vital commandments are founded—is a statement of God’s identity and our responsibility to love him. Does this rob the teachings of church organization of importance? No. In fact, it gives them even more credence as they are fundamentally founded upon an understanding and love for the God who gave them. All of God’s teachings are important, and we believe that because we believe that God himself comes first.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Story Of Jephthah & The Lesser Of Two Evils

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Recently, I re-read the story of Jephthah. It is a perfect fit for the moral maelstrom that is the book of Judges. Here’s a little refresher on the story: Jephthah was called on to save the Israelites from an oppressive neighboring nation. He made a vow to God that if he won a big battle, when he arrived home, he would offer the first living thing that came out of his door. So, when his only child—a grown daughter—was the first living thing to come out of the house, he kept his vow and burned her on an altar to God.

Sound horrible? It is. And that’s why I started wondering: is that what he should have done? Was God pleased with that vow and with his keeping it?

The simple answer is: no.

I think I can say unequivocally that Jephthah should not have sacrificed his child, even if it meant breaking a vow to God. In reality, because of his stupid vow, he had no good options, but one option was clearly more evil than the other. Despite the fact that many of us have said, “One sin is the same as another; they’re all equal in God’s eyes,” the Bible just does not say that. There are times when we must choose between to evils, in which case we must always choose the lesser evil. Jephthah’s choice was between breaking a vow and shedding innocent blood, and he chose to commit the greater of those two evils. By contrast, when Rahab had to choose between lying about the location of the spies sent by God or giving them up to be killed, she chose the lie, knowing that it would mean their lives were preserved. And was she condemned for her infraction? No. In fact, the Hebrews writer commends her for welcoming them, which involved her saving their lives.

What’s the point? God values life. And though they may happen infrequently, when the choice comes down to a breach of morality versus a loss of innocent life, faithful people must choose the lesser of those two evils. The Holy Spirit said through Hosea: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6) Our lives should reflect the most important things to him: steadfast love for the innocent and a premium priority on preserving life that is given by God and created in his image.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The God of Good Mornings

Sunday, April 01, 2018

When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Realities as old as Adam & Eve were suddenly rewritten. Death was defeated by life. Fear was defeated by hope. And darkness was defeated by light. And yet, it seems that God saw fit to announce this universe-altering event to only a very small audience—a few women who misunderstood it at first, and a few men who doubted it at first. And it begs the question: why would God not alert all humanity to the fact that he is bringing life? Why not give the nations an indication that fear has lost to hope? Why would God not at least signify to that part of the world that darkness was defeated by God’s light?

He did. The sun rose.

Every time that morning dawns, God reminds all creation that something new is being done. Every morning, he awakens life, quells fear, and banishes darkness with light.

As he created the world, each new level of his life-giving work was accompanied by the words, “there was morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). When Abraham was called to demonstrate how God would bring us life in Christ, we are told Abraham “rose early in the morning” (Gen. 22:3). When the Psalmist talked about the goodness of God, he said, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psa. 30:5). And when Jesus rose from the dead, even those who were unaware of what God had done in that Garden were experiencing God’s gift of new life as the sun rose too.

Dawn may be a daily occurrence all over the world, but that doesn’t take away from its significance in Jesus’ resurrection story. If anything, it adds to the daily significance of sunrise. The resurrection points us to what the daily dawn has always been showing us: that ours is a God who has always had a plan to bring us life with the rising of the Son.


- Dan Lankford, minister

Freedom In Morality

Sunday, March 25, 2018

In ministry, I sometimes encounter people who complain that the church’s teachings are too moralistic. That is, that the church only tries to get people to behave perfectly, but not to love Jesus from the heart. And so, in rebellion against that viewpoint, many have presumed that we should continue in sin, abandon-ing antiquated morals, so that grace may truly abound. The thought is that while the former confines us, the latter will truly set us free.

But the line between moralistic religion and a riotous presumption upon grace is not so fine as some might think. In fact, the gap between them is large enough to accommodate another whole idea: Biblical moral freedom as God has actually ordained it.

When God created mankind, he imposed a standard of morality upon us in order to preserve our freedom to speak openly with him, our freedom to enjoy the prosperity and rest of an abundant garden, and our freedom from death (cf. Gen. 3:22-24). It was only when we rebelled against this code of morality that we became slaves.

And when God brought the Israelites into Canaan, he imposed a standard of morality upon them in order to make them free to live at peace with their political neighbors, free to be economically rich and prosperous, and free to enjoy a society of harmony and equality (cf. Deut. 4:5-8). It was only when they rebelled against his morality that they oppressed the vulnerable and became slaves themselves.

Morality is not inherently a prison. When morality is objectively dictated by God, it is the key to release us from a prison we make for ourselves. That is why we need law from God. And that is why we need to follow his law—for our own good and the good of all others.

- Dan Lankford, minister 


*We are in the midst of a sermon series on the 10 Commandments—a moral code which, if followed, can still bring freedom and equality to all societies. Click here to hear those messages.*

The Cross And The Psalms

Sunday, March 18, 2018

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

Christians & Hospitality

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  (Heb. 13:1-2)

The possibility of entertaining angels in the passage above is an idea full of potential excitement. Some of God’s people did show hospitality to angels before they realized they had done so (Gideon, Abraham, Lot, etc). However, in our excitement about that possibility, I think we can easily overlook the most obvious implication of it: they would have never entertained angels if they were not given to hospitality.

The simplest things are often the easiest to overlook, and such is the case with demonstrations of hospitality. Contrasted with the grand scope of a missionary journey, hosting a visiting preacher or an elderly couple for dinner in your home may not seem like much of a contribution to the kingdom… but it is. Contrasted with the notoriety of a preacher who publicly proclaims the eternal gospel in front of large crowds, thanklessly welcoming a repentant and recovering brother to live with might not seem like much of a contribution to the kingdom… but it is. When contrasted with the high commendations spoken at the funeral of a long-tenured elder in the church, perhaps the simple act of giving gifts to a few widows seems insignificant… but the Lord once raised a woman from the dead to continue giving such gifts.

Don’t show hospitality in hopes of entertaining angels. But do show hospitality. Be a blessing. Love your brothers. Live as a Christian.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Deep Cleaning The Soul

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The experience is common in which we begin work on a particular problem and a deeper problem is discovered. Sometimes a minor surgical procedure leads to the discovery of a dangerous, previously unknown disease. Sometimes a home repair which seems minor leads to an expensive overhaul of plumbing, electrical, or foundations. Even a routine pickup of a room can reveal the need for a second-level deep clean when we begin to see dirt more clearly than we had before.

The apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to, “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor. 13:5). When we follow instructions like that, we very often discover that our problems are far deeper than we had initially expected.

Maybe an effort to work on our continual fearfulness and anxiety reveals the underlying grime of selfishness. Maybe the beginning stages of work on a problem of continual irritability reveals the contaminating poison of pride at a deeper level of the heart. Maybe it is and effort to lesses some indulgent spending that reveals an embarrassing lack of self-control which has henceforth just been swept under the rug.

Does all of that mean that we should not examine ourselves so we do not find these problems? That’s tempting, but it is unbiblical. Do not avoid the examination and all its accompanying baggage; embrace it! Just be ready to confess your sins—on both levels. That’s the only way that the first-level cleaning gets done, and it is the only way that a soul can get to that second-level deep cleaning that we so desperately need.

The Lord has laid claim on the whole heart of any who will surrender to him. We should expect that will lead all of us to some deep cleaning of the soul.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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