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
Over the past two weeks, our church has been considering appointing our brother Steve Akers as an elder. As of yesterday, Oct. 4, Steve is our newest elder here!
It's difficult to fully communicate the blessing this is for our church family. Steve has already been doing much of an elders' work in the way he cares for the people of this church. He and his wife, Maggie, have been pillars of the Bible class efforts here, Steve is an active worship leader, his daughters are active in preparing and teaching in our kids' classes, and they have given a great deal of behind-the-scenes care to many of our members over their 20 years as part of the Eastland family.
At our service yesterday morning, our other two elders, Reggie & Jim, expressed their joy that Steve will be joining them in their work. And the whole congregation was very obviously thankful that Steve has decided to do this work to watch over all our souls.
I have only been a part of Eastland for about six months now, but it has become increasingly evident to me that a lot of people have made some serious investments in this church. Investments of time, of emotions, and of energy have shaped this church into a family who embody what Jesus said in John 13:35 — "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
The whole church is thankful to Steve and his family for being willing to serve us in this new way. We're grateful to Jim & Reggie for the service they are continually willing to give us as our shepherds. And we are all so thankful to God for his immeasurable blessings in everything in our lives. 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
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 my prayer and meditation time this morning, there's just a lot on my mind. For example:
Today is September 11. When I heard the bad news 14 years ago, I was in English class at Dickson Middle School in Dickson, TN. My teacher said, "You all will remember today like your grandparents remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot." She was right. And I remember thinking, "How many people died this morning?!" Today, I'm praying for the people who experienced close personal loss and will be hurting today, and I'm praying for the people who are so misled by the false god of Islam. "God, I'm so thankful for Jesus. I'm so thankful for salvation and comfort I have in him. And I pray others can find those same things—that you'll use me to help more people know Jesus."
This week, I spoke at the funeral of a friend. He wasn't a long-time friend, but he was a loyal and devoted friend. He was one of our church members, and I only started getting to know him in April of this year, but I did not expect to be losing him so soon. The whole week has reminded—and/or taught—me of a few of really heavy things. 1) That faith in Christ and integrity really are THAT important, because death is real, Jesus is real, and that means judgment is real. 2) That it's important for me to enjoy the friendships and examples I have in my life right now, because they are blessings from God for TODAY. 3) I have a wonderful church family. Seriously, if you don't know the Eastland church of Christ, you need to get here and get to know them soon. I've never seen a church respond to the loss of one of their own like these people have. The overwhelming outpouring of support to the family, the amount of time spent in memorial, the depth of sadness and sincerity of hope in conversations, and the amount of time so much of the church has spent together this week just to support and love each other... It's been an amazing week, and it's made me so, SO thankful for them. "God, thank you for my friend, Jerry. I loved him, and I will miss him, but I'm thankful for him. And thank you for all that you've taught me this week. I know I am among your disciples because they love each other. Thank you."
This coming Sunday, if God wills, our worship will be packed with members and guests. Our members are working hard to bring in people with whom they want to share their faith in Jesus. And so... knowing that, I'm trying to come up with a lesson that won't use any gimics or false appeals... but will just show people the true nature of Jesus. We're going to talk about forgiveness, and the more I work on the lesson, the more and more and more I want to say... because forgiveness is SUCH a powerful blessing! "God, help me bring you to the forefront and me to the background. Let me be just the channel for your power to do the real work in people's hearts."
Did you see that video about "Christians" released by BuzzFeed this week? It was targeted to people who dislike or even hate Christians (a growing number in this country), and it's message was basically, "I'm a Christian, but I'm not what you think about me." I could write A LOT about the video makers' mistakes (and maybe I will next week), but the thing that bothers me the most is... it isn't about Christ. In fact, he isn't mentioned a single time. In fairness, God is mentioned... once. But the omission was so glaring that one of the first comments on the video was this: "I may be Jewish, but I still expected something about Christ in a video about Christianity. You could've replaced the word Christian with 'buzzfeed contributor' and it would have made no difference." This hasn't just bothered me because a worldly company made a video that misses the point of the gospel... I expected that. It has bothered me because of how many self-proclaimed believers only believe in a version of Christianity that lacks Christ. As the Jewish commenter points out, when you define yourself as a Christian, that means you have to define yourself by Christ. We (believers) are missing the point when we miss the theology (the nature of God) in Christianity. If it isn't about God first, it isn't going to last. BuzzFeed's watered-down, humanistic, self-centered version of religion won't last. Because it doesn't have Jesus, and it's therefore missing the single most crucial component of its uniqueness. And I wonder... is your faith mostly about Jesus? Is mine? "God, make me all about you. Define me by my salvation in you, my total dependence on you, and my complete submission to you. I need you, God. And I couldn't be more thankful that you love me."
That's the stuff that's on my mind today. We'll see how it all plays out when Sunday comes.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The discussion typically goes something like this: "I just feel like all... or at least most... churches are basically the same. So it doesn't really matter what we do as long as we're basically on the same page."
In spite of the various objections one might make to that statement, the thing that strikes me is the idea of just basically doing things right. I agree that there are some fundamental ideas to Christianity that are more basic than others, and I agree that those ideas are broadly similar in many churches within christendom. My consideration is not so much focused on the idea of similarities or differences, but on the problem of basically doing Christianity.
As a society, we tend to dislike complexity. We usually end up in it accidentally, but we prefer things—especially ideas—to be simple. And so we idealize boiling away the more complex elements of something to pursue it in only its most basic form. But consider a couple of questions. Will I be invited to join a professional orchestra because I can basically play the violin? Will I be recommended for continual promotions because I've basically done my job? Will I be promoted by others as a candidate for political office because I've basically understood the political system and the issues that need repair?
When we decide to be a disciple of something, we devote ourselves to learning it and practicing it with excellence. Why, then, would we choose to basically be a disciple of Jesus? Why would we not pursue him with all the care and attention and excellence that he deserves? Why would we not want to learn more than just being basically what God wants us to be?
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
As you probably know if you visit this page very much, we have been re-constructing our website in recent weeks. We're updating content, adding new features, and just making some general improvements. I thought one of these updates was worth sharing.
For our "Leadership" page, I asked each of our shepherds what they love about the Eastland church, and I just wanted to re-share what they had to say. I was very moved by the beauty and sincerity of their thoughts, and it made me that much more thankful for the men who shepherd this flock.
When asked what he loves about the Eastland church, brother Reggie Robarts said, "I cherish the golden cord of love that binds us together in a fellowship with each other and with God. As a family when one suffers we are quick to respond, and when one has cause of rejoicing we share in their rejoicing. We share a mutual respect for God and the authority of His Word. May it ever be so."
When asked what he loves about the Eastland church, brother Jim Broderson said, "Eastland is blessed with an abundance of young energetic members which bodes well for the future of any congregation. Our members are a generally friendly and cheerful group who worship and work together in an atmosphere of peace and unity. I find the preaching and teaching to be engaging and stimulating; challenging you to think and react in ways that evoke changes that build character and promote spiritual growth and Christian service. I love that."
I'm personally so thankful for both of these men and their servants' attitudes toward serving & leading God's people.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
You can now find Eastland on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! We're keeping our threads updated with encouraging thoughts, Bible verses, event notifications, good news from the church, and more. Find us at the links below.
In Sunday morning's sermon, I made a passing reference to the Islamic faith's belief that people need to do enough good to outweigh the bad they've done so they can go to heaven. An aspect of that faith which I did not mention was that their holy book (the Quran) does not tell them how much "weight" certain good deeds have and how much "weight" certain bad deeds have. As a result, many Muslims are forced to admit that while they value their faith, it does not offer ANY assurance that they will be saved.
In stark contrast, Christianity clearly teaches that my salvation is not by my own merit, but that it is a gift from God. And as a result, when I seek him, he is for me (Rom. 8:31). I can be assured of my place in the presence of God because I have faith in his salvation, because he has chosen to have a relationship with me, and because he is a God who keeps his promises.
There are two applications I want you to think about from understanding this huge difference. Firstly, we can talk to our Muslim friends about that difference. We do not have to be condescending or hateful, but we can open the door to a conversation that offers them true hope and an eternal assurance by faith. We can talk to our Muslim coworkers and neighbors about how God offers what their faith cannot offer—the chance to believe in the saving grace of God. Secondly, I encourage you to stop what you're doing and PRAY — thank God for his saving power in Jesus. Thank God for the assurance of salvation. Thank God for the faith he delivered once for all who would find redemption in him.
- Dan Lankford