“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel... And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness, for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring.’” (Deut. 31:19, 21)
Since he is the Creator of music, it should not surprise us that God would make use of song to draw people toward himself—both by moving us emotionally and instructing us doctrinally. This song, penned through Moses, was designed to do both. As it would witness against the children of Israel, it was to teach their later generations of the great evil they would inevitably do by departing from God’s ways. As our songs and hymns are meant to do, it would be used for “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3:16).
The assembled masses of God’s people must be thoroughly attentive to the quality of the hymns that we sing. If we are aware enough to appreciate them, they will often challenge us, convict us, and therefore sadden us into repentance. In many cases, they witness against us as they teach us and admonish us. And we must let them continue to do this.
In the event that our hymnody were to become unidimensional so that we we lost sight of the true exhortation and “witness” we are to receive from them, I fear we would incur a perspective from God similar to that which he described in the time of the prophet Amos. While the nation’s souls morally decayed into idolatry and injustice, they continued to sing songs of praise and self-confidence to God. And God said, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:23).
Hymns which only validate us—even while we are in our sins—do a disservice to the true power God would exhibit through song.
Let us then be judicious in choosing hymns for worship assemblies and in actively participating in our hymns. Because we need them to accurately praise the Lord of hosts. And we need them, on occasion, to witness against us and pull us back into his glorious presence.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“Accountability” is talked about frequently in churches of all types. We recognize the need for it when we think about overcoming sin in our lives in view of passages like Hebrews 10:24 (“let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works”), Galatians 6:1 (“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”), or Eccl. 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow”).
But we have a bit of trouble understanding what accountability truly should be.
Our brother Edwin Crozier points out that it’s not supposed to be just over-the-shoulder monitoring, which is how we most often think of it. He says:
“We most commonly say, ‘I’ve got to find someone to hold me accountable. They’re gonna look over my shoulder.’ And so we go to that person and we say, ‘Look, here’s my problem. I would like for you to just call me every once in awhile and ask me how I’m doing with that.’
This is a plan for failure. Not only is it a plan for failure; it’s a plan for failure that plans to allow you blame someone else. Because who have you given ownership of your spiritual growth to? That person who’s supposed to be looking over my shoulder. And so, when they get busy and they don’t call you and you stumble and fall, then we think, ‘That’s not my fault; that’s your fault, y’know? You were supposed to call me. What can I do? We all know I can’t do this on my own, but you didn’t call me.’”
There’s a major difference between thinking, “I need someone to keep me accountable” and thinking, “I’m going to find someone to whom I will be accountable.” I do encourage you to seek some accountability if you’re looking for help overcoming sin. You can’t do it alone, and you need to admit that and find some help, especially when you are willing to admit that your sin is controlling you. But make sure you find someone to offer you the right kind of accountability. Not that you turn your pursuit of God solely into their responsibility, but that you have determined to seek God, and you want someone that can help you win the battle which you are already ardently fighting.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Over the past week, our church has been considering appointing our brother Phil Morris as an elder. As of yesterday, Oct. 30, Phil is our newest elder here!
Phil and his family joined our church just over one year ago, and they immediatley went to work! They have been variously involved in our Bible class program, in our Meetups, in showing hospitality toward everyone in the church, in visiting the sick, in preaching, and in leading our worship assemblies. Our church family has come to know and love Phil, his wife Shannie, and their children: Hunter, Dailin, and Ashlin. God has blessed us with their fellowship, and we are thankful he now blesses us with Phil's leadership.
At our service yesterday morning, our current shepherds expressed their joy that Phil is joining them in their great work for God's glory. And the whole congregation was very obviously thankful that Phil is willing to devote himself to watching over all our souls.
The apostle Paul said to the elders from Ephesus: "Now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace" (Acts 20:32). We are thankful to have four men who are committed to God and to the word of his grace.
If you're reading this, even if you're not a member of our church family, we ask that you'll pray for our shepherds. Pray for them to increase in wisdom and in the grace of God to shepherd the flock.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places..." (Eph. 1:3)
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
There is a major difference between our God-given responsibility to "build one another up" (1 Thess. 5:11) and our presumed ambition to "keep somebody humble." The reality is that no human can truly make another human humble. We can humiliate someone, but that is not our scriptural responsibility. We can discourage someone, but neither is that our scriptural responsibility.
The scriptures put your responsibility for humility squarely in your lap. "Humble yourselves before the Lord," said the apostle James (4:10). So it is each one's job to keep himself humble in his attitude before God, and it is the each one's job to honor his brother in the Lord.
It is with this in mind that I would encourage you with a couple ways to show honor to the leaders of your church. 1 Timothy 5:7 says, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching." So here are five things that our shepherds need to hear from us on a regular basis—ways to show them the double honor of which they have proven themselves worthy.
1) I pray for you. The weight of responsibility God has given them is great. We all need to pray for them regularly, and they need to know that we're doing that.
2) I trust you. Humans have a tendency to distrust anyone in any position of authority, but this human tendency must be overcome within the church. Yes, they will make mistakes. But we need to trust that our shepherds' desires are only to do what is best for the church always.
3) I pray for your wife. She needs your prayers, too, and elders need to know that the members do not treat their wives as some group of “others,” but as dear sisters who need our prayers.
4) I think our future is bright. Elders are frequently hear from us about how things “used to be.” Many conversations with them begin with "back when we were..." And while that certainly has its place, the elders need to know that you think the congregation has a bright future by God's power. They need to know that we see the value of their vision to draw us closer to God.
5) Thank you. Long hours, heart-wrenching prayers, and sleepless nights are the parts of the work that most of us do not see. And yet, it is obvious that our Eastland shepherds give in these and many other ways. Let's be sure they know how grateful we are.
Obviously, our shepherds did not ask me to write this brief exhortation. These are some ideas I recently encountered and wished to pass along. I believe all of these ideas are eminently Biblical as they help us fulfill God's direct commandment to show honor to our leaders.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10)
We tend to think of relationships as a sort of recovery system for life. We frequently think about a husband who can be there to lift up his wife when she is down or of a great friend who can help balance out one’s own negative character traits. And based on the text above, that is a perfectly valid way to think of relationships—especially godly ones.
But let’s not forget the other side of the coin which is also talked about in this passage—“they have a good reward for their toil.”
Great relationships do not only help us when we are at a low ebb; they share the good with us when we are at a high point. Marriage is not only good because one spouse is strong while the other is weak; it is meant to be built on shared strength and shared joy. Truly great friendships do not only bring us up from our darkness; they celebrate and enjoy the light together. A church should not only be important to help me when I am weak; it is a relationship that is meant to be built on shared strength and shared joy.
Solomon continued his thought by saying, “if two lie together, they keep warm… though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.” (Eccl. 4:11-12) He saw the rewards of good relationships.
This little shift in our thinking can and should make some big changes in our relationships. When we are only thinking, “I need this relationship to fix me when I’m broken,” we will be much more likely to be selfish and demanding in the relationship. But when we think about making the other person’s life better whether they are “up” or “down,” then we will be able to give more to the relationship. And that is the best way to do it. That is the way Jesus did and does relationships. When both parties are working to give to the other, “they have a good reward for their toil.”
- Dan Lankford, minister
A cursory glance over several New Testament passages which emphasize our speech will reveal that God intends for us to choose our words deliberately.
- In the opening verses of 1 Corinthians, the apostle gives thanks that God's grace enriched their knowledge and their speech. (1 Cor. 1:4-5ff)
- In 1 Corinthians 2:4, the apostle reminds that his words were intended to convey the words of the Holy Spirit—the kind of speech with true power.
- In 2 Corinthians 8, as the Spirit pleads for those Christians to excel in generosity to needy brothers, he commends their excellence in speech, among other things (2 Cor. 8:7ff).
- In 1 Timothy 4:12, one of the antidotes for being despised for one's youth is to set an excellent example in the quality of his speech.
- To Titus, the apostle said, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of... sound speech that cannot be condemned..." (Titus 2:7-8)
- And in Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."
It becomes very apparent that this matter matters to God. And it matters in a couple of ways.
Firstly and obviously, it is important that Christians do not speak in ungodly ways. We are not to be blasphemous nor hateful nor untrue. We are not to be judgmental or unnecessarily harsh with our words. We are not to speak curses toward other people. These regulations are evident.
Secondly, and perhaps less obviously, the New Testament perspective on our speech means that we must speak with great thoughtfulness. From the above passages, we are given the impression of someone who speaks slowly and intentionally in order to get just the right words across. This intentional nature of our speech is what leads to excellence in it (2 Cor. 8:7). It gives us the carefully filter our own ideas out of the way and speak the words of the Spirit clearly (1 Cor. 2:4). And it sets us up to speak graciously in high-pressure, high-stakes, or high-intensity circumstances because we have made it a practice to speak graciously in every circumstance (Col. 4:6).
One specific application of this idea: we must work to communicate God's will clearly. It is natural to think of this as a preacher's goal, and it absolutely must be. But it is only his responsibility because he is a Christian and ALL Christians are commissioned to communicate the will of God perfectly as we can. When we flail our way through conversations about the cosmic concepts of redemption, grace, sanctification, holiness, and theology with careless words and haphazard statements of judgment on others... we are not helping anyone see the things of God more clearly. Mark Twain famously said, "The difference between any word and the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." It takes diligence and humility to speak the oracles of God with a clear mind and a clear conscience.
The way we talk about God matters. It matters to our fellow saints, to the lost world, and to God himself. As Christians, it's time we put in the mental work that is required to communicate God and godliness clearly.
- 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
When your job is to make a sale, your success is measured on the standard of the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t buy, you didn’t succeed. Thus, a salesman is dependent upon the perception of his consumer. And so whether by warping a perspective on its positive points, overlooking or downplaying its inevitable disappointments, or by simply changing the product, the sale must be made.
As believers, it is not our job to sell the gospel. Our job is to share the gospel. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy told the Thessalonians they were “ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” (1 Thess. 2:8) It is simply not our job to make the gospel appealing by warping people’s perspective on its positive points, overlooking or downplaying its inevitable difficulties, or by simply trying to change the gospel. The reality is that we do not have to make a sale to be successful.
It is every Christian’s job to share the gospel—to simply speak the truth about it and let it make its own appeal to our hearers’ hearts. It is both a simple & complex message based on a compelling story of God & his people. It is a message with the power to change lives and save lives. And it doesn’t need us to infuse it with that power; it just needs to us share it with those who do not yet know it.
This means we do not have to be dependent on the consumer for success. We do not have to “make sales” to validate our efforts in the sight of God. Under this tyranny of desperation for validation, approval, or a sale, all of us have a tendency to jettison the core elements of the original greatness—the true & pure essence of the central idea (in this case, the gospel).
But because we are simply trying to share the gospel, we can do so with the knowledge that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14). We must still share the gospel with everyone, but we can do so without a compulsion to change it, improve it, or find more clever ways of selling it. It’s God’s message to man; just share it.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” (Gen. 11:4)
The tower of Babel—“Babylon” in the original language—was the brainchild of a people seeking their own glory. “Come and let us make a name for ourselves.”
In our efforts to Rise Up & Build in this new year, the Lord has already blessed our congregation with success. He has given a growing sense of family as new and old members have all connected more deeply. He has given growth in number through conversions and repeated guests. He has given the increase in our faith as individuals through the study of his word in our lives. And for all of this, we must remember to thank HIM for the growth.
In any effort by God's people to Rise Up & Build, the goal must be to give glory to God. God halted construction of the Tower of Babylon because mankind had already failed—they had already lost sight of whose glory they must live for.
In view of our efforts to Rise Up & Build in 2016, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this mindset. Because if we are building in hopes that Eastland will become a great name among churches, we have the wrong goals. If we are building in hopes that our methods will become noteworthy and be imitated among other groups, we have the wrong goals. Even if we are building in hopes of the excitement of new people and new facilities, we have the wrong goals.
In all of our efforts to live the gospel, share the gospel, and participate in the gospel, the goal must be to bring souls to Christ. To live for God’s glory better in our own lives, to bring others to see his glory and live for that themselves, and to participate together in bringing glory to him. If it is for our own glory, it will fail. Only when we build for God’s glory will we continue to be blessed with growth!
- Dan Lankford, minister
One of my preaching mentors wrote: “I have been with my current congregation for 18 years. On my first Sunday in the pulpit, I promised the church that I would never stand before them unprepared. I believe I can say with integrity that I have kept that promise. Could I ‘wing it’ after three and a half decades of preaching? Yes, I could. But I would know, and God would know…”
How does he do that? He simply works diligently enough all the time to be prepared at any time. That perspective is one which he did his best to instill in me, and I am willing to make the same promise to my church family at Eastland. I will never stand before them unprepared.
That perspective is obviously noble when it applies to preaching. It also makes for a great perspective on living. Jesus said, “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). In the course of the next chapter, he went on to give five reasons why his followers must work diligently enough all the time to be ready at any time. He asks us not to stand before Him unprepared.
I think sometimes we imagine that the end of our time will come like the end of Paul’s time. We will see our end on the horizon and be able to calmly say, “I have fought the good fight… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). But Paul’s circumstance was unique. He was a prisoner, facing the death penalty. Paul could see his end coming. We are not likely to find ourselves in that same situation, but we can live with such diligence that we are ready even today to say, “I have fought the good fight… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.”
That same preaching mentor was wont to say, “Sunday will come every week, whether you’re ready or not.” It only took about 1 month of full-time preaching before I realized how right he was.
Take this simple reminder to heart: The final day will come once (Heb. 9:27), whether you’re ready or not.
Be diligent to be ready… today.
- Dan Lankford, minister