This quarter, I've been teaching the Law of Moses. And it's been a great personal journey for me as I'm seeing greater depths of God's perfect plan than I've ever noticed before. The one concept whose depth has struck me more than anything else is the Sabbath concept. It's a powerful idea on so many levels, but the one that is perhaps the most helpful is the obvious one: the Sabbath causes us to rest.
Obviously, nothing in the Bible encourages God's people toward laziness (cf. Prov. 6:6-11), but there is plenty in the Bible that encourages us to take time with God and rest. Whether your day-to-day obligation is feeding and clothing kids, managing investments, cleaning windows, supervising a production line, or writing sermons... the workaday world is and should be important to us. But while that's true, we can't let that world consume our worldview. God's people need regular breaks to devote ourselves solely to the things of God, and we need to appreciate those breaks when they come.
Sunday worship is a time when our minds can rest in his word and his worship. Wednesday Bible study is very much the same thing. Personal devotions—times of reading & pondering God's word and praying to him—ought to have a place in every Christian's calendar. Elders and preachers need time to rest from their labors. Rest from toil is a healthy part of the life cycle of groups of people too; Companies, churches, families, or clubs all need time to settle our minds on what we're really all about (remember that God gave the Sabbath as a national idea). Vacations can sound like a very American idea, but there are Biblical reasons to see the value of a little R&R — rest (that's a biblical idea) and recreation (can you see the idea of re-creation in that word?).
So make sure that you take time to let your mind and your heart rest with God. Next week's holiday gives a perfect opportunity to do that. Make sure to take full advantage of the opportunity and give God sincere thanks for the blessing that it is when we avail ourselves of it.
In this past week’s daily Bible readings, we read large sections of the story of Solomon. It’s a confounding story of what might’ve been: a king who rules God’s people with perfect wisdom but then squanders the chance to fulfill God’s whole plan for the kingdom. He seems to be rising at the same time that he is falling.
One place in the story which embodies this simultaneous rise and fall is in 1 Kings 10:23 thru 11:8. In one breath the writer of 1 Kings says, “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” This is great news! The king is a voice for God to the Hebrews and all nations! But in the next breath, the writer gives us the foreboding news that Solomon turned back toward Egypt and married many foreign women who turned his heart away from YHWH. And so the whole thing turns out only to be the story of what might’ve been.
Haven’t we seen the same kind of things happen in the lives of people whom we know? Someone becomes a Christian, and their faith seems to take off like a rocket. They are participating in church life, reading the Bible daily, and showing all the signs of total commitment. But then signs of spiritual weakness start to show, and soon their hearts are turned away from YHWH. It’s the same kind of life that Jesus talks about in his parable of a seed that grew up quickly in thin soil and then died out because its roots were weak. All of us need to be reminded: put your faith completely in God. Live by his wisdom. Don’t become a person whose faith might have been great.
One thing that helps God’s kingdom is the blessing of hearing truth spoken by different voices. Some would tout this as a good thing because they believe we should consider all people’s interpretations of Scripture equally valid. I wholeheartedly disagree with that rationale, but I maintain that it’s good for us to hear from various teachers. Here’s why:
No one person is capable of fully plumbing the depths of God’s written word. Therefore, our efforts to dive deeper into Scripture are enhanced when we work together—not to achieve various interpretations, but to achieve a more perfect understanding. I have inevitable blind spots in my search of the Scriptures, meaning that I overlook things—sometimes, important and even obvious ones. This is why I am constantly searching the Scriptures, but it is also why I need others to teach me. The word of God is complete, but my understanding of it will forever be incomplete, and so I need help.
The same is true for all of us. We all need make a regular habit of reading the word, meditating on it, and praying for wisdom from the One who gives to all generously and without reproach (Jas. 1:5). And we need to appreciate the value of hearing what other saints know of God’s will: whether that’s from the pulpit, in conversations over dinner, in Bible class comments, at devotions in our homes, as we talk on the golf course, or wherever. You may be able to teach another, and he or she may be able to teach you. In either case, we are all made better together as we live out the simple, but profound wisdom from Solomon: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
You have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
- Psalm 99:15, ESV
The Bible is the authoritative source of all God-given doctrine for true disciples. It contains God’s spoken will, including his promises, his story, and his moral directives for life and religion. Therefore, when God speaks on a subject, we must believe his teaching and respect his will as authoritative and unchangeable.
But in the Bible, God does not always speak in black-and-white morality. In fact, there are times when the Holy Spirit says that a particular thing is a matter of each person’s judgment (Romans 14:1-6). And when that is the case, we must have enough faith in God to believe what he says: that another person’s judgment call is acceptable. As one preacher has said:
“Let doctrine be doctrine, and let judgment be judgment. God gave us both.”
What does that mean for us?
Firstly, we need to know the word well enough to tell the difference between matters of doctrine and judgment. That takes a great deal of Christian maturity, which comes from a great deal of prayer and study.
Secondly, it means that our convictions on doctrinal matters must be non-negotiable. This is what we mean when we talk about being “conservative” Christians—that we are people who are firmly committed to what God actually says in the Bible. We believe it.
Thirdly, it means that where God has allowed someone to make a judgment call, we should be willing to do the same. To do anything else denies that God’s word is, itself, fully sufficient to accomplish his will.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Yesterday's Bible reading (Num. 13-14) covered one of the most important stories in Israel's history. The story of their 40 years of wilderness wandering is a key to understanding their national identity: they are a people to whom God has promised rest, but instead of receiving his promises, they ignore his word and make a choice that keeps them in the wilderness. It's an important story about them, and it has an important lesson for us as Christians when we knowingly choose sin over God's ways. Think about it this way:
God sets us free from sin and destruction when we pass through the waters (baptism), just like he did for Israel when they passed through the waters (the Red Sea). In that, he promises peace when we live by his will, just as he promised peace to Israel if they would live by his will and just enter the land. But just like they willingly chose to reject his will and remain in the wilderness, when we willingly sin, we choose to remain in the wilderness of sin instead of entering the land of peace that God has promised us.
It's a simple object lesson, and a powerful reminder: when you know God's will, do God's will. His ways will lead us to peace with him. Sin will only leave us wandering, miserable, and empty-handed. So when it takes courage, when it's difficult, and when it's costly... do the right thing. Stay true to the will of God.
"See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God... And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it." (Hebrews 3:12, 3:18-4:1)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In just about every sporting arena there are rules that govern the games. No matter the sport, in order to maintain discipline and keep order, rules must established and adhered to. In most sporting events there are physical areas designated as out of bounds. This typically means, the boundaries have been set and you can’t go beyond those established areas. If or when one does, it results in penalties and those penalties can sometimes be very costly. We saw this happen recently at one of the world’s largest sporting events.
God has set boundaries for his followers when it comes to his word. In 1 Corinthians 4:6, it reads, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.” “Do not go beyond what is written.” This means we cannot add to or change that which is already clearly stated in the word of God. To do so means we have violated the boundary line, and this assuredly will result in penalties that could cost us our soul.
John wrote in 2 John 9, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” What we believe or practice religiously must line up with the word of God. If it doesn’t, we don’t have God and risk losing it all. Let us not gamble on losing our soul by stepping out of bounds and doing what feels good to us religiously. God has set the rules; he will call the fouls and issue the penalties for going outside the boundaries of his word. May we who love the Lord keep his word completely.
- Kristopher Sanders, minister
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
“Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with a mane?
Do you make him leap like the locust?
His majestic snorting is terrifying.
He paws in the valley and exults in his strength;
he goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear and is not dismayed;
he does not turn back from the sword.
Upon him rattle the quiver,
the flashing spear, and the javelin.
With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’
He smells the battle from afar,
the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.”
- Job 38:1-3, 39:19-25
In light of last night's big game, let's start with a little basketball reference. Coach John Wooden (UCLA, 1948-1975) said of himself, "I don’t think I was a fine game coach. I’m trying to be honest. I think I was a good practice coach." What's the difference? The difference is in the fundamentals. Can you execute the fundamental moves of the game with individual precision, individual determination, and team unison every single time in practice? Then the games will take care of themselves.
That's one of the reasons that our gospel meeting series for next week focuses on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. For Christians whose faith is not as mature, it helps to establish a strong foundation on which to build a better walk of faith. But even for mature Christians, it works like practice: an effort to help each of us understand Christianity with doctrinal precision, hold our individual sense of determination, and move in unison with our brothers and sisters.
The Holy Spirit told one group of Christians that it was important for them to move beyond the basics and into greater maturity (Heb. 5:11-6:9), but we never truly leave those bedrock ideas behind. Remember that Paul said the most important thing he taught to the Corinthians was about the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4), which is among the basics talked about in Hebrews 6:3. The foundations stay with us, and only when we are strong on those foundations will we be able to grow beyond them.
We have people of all maturity levels in our church, and so we're praying that next week's series will be a blessing to all of us. See you there!
- Dan Lankford, minister
The longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm #119—a poem that extols the glory of God’s written word. There is a very healthy ideal underlying a composition like that. It’s the kind of thing that God’s people should always aspire to—that we value the words of God as highly as that psalmist. That’s why we are a church who take the Bible seriously. And just a quick survey of our practices, procedures, and conversations reveals that:
- Instead of studying each year’s newest best-seller from the Christian world, our classes focus on studying the Bible again & again.
- When we teach about salvation, we do so by opening the Bible.
- Our goal is to have a pulpit where sermons are defined by appeals to the Bible as God’s final authority on matters of daily life and eternal doctrine.
- We have a program of daily reading assignments to encourage folks to spend more time in the Bible and let it permeate each of our hearts more each day.
- We teach our children the stories and doctrines of the Bible.
- We contemplate God’s words from the Bible before the weekly communion with Christ.
- When we talk about both morality and religious practice for the modern age, we are primarily concerned with what the Bible says about those things.
All of that probably sounds perfectly normal to most of us. And yet, all of that would cause many in the secular and religious world to ask: “Why?” For many people, the Bible should be thought of more like guidelines than actual rules.
But not for us. We continue to agree with the psalmist’s belief that God’s written word is righteous, healthy, holy, encouraging, empowering and generally wonderful. May it ever be so.
- Dan Lankford, minister