Tuesday's news was mainly given to campaign quotes and Super Tuesday hopes & results. Regardless of how you feel about the candidates in this year's presidential election, and regardless of what you anticipate the future will be for this country, remember a couple of these things above all those things:
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Rom. 13:1-2)
"[The king of Babylon] was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will." (Daniel 5:21)
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." (John 18:36)
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." (1 Timothy 2:1-5)
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
We are excited to host our first Invite-A-Friend Sunday in 2016. If the Lord wills, we'll have a special message on Sunday morning, April 3, for our members and guests alike. As a church family, we always enjoy meeting a host of new folks on these particular Sundays. And we pray that in your time with us, you will hear and see that we are about even more than a great church family atmosphere... we're all about Jesus Christ!
On this particular Sunday, we plan to talk about HOPE. It has been said that "hope is not a strategy," and so you cannot make plans based on a hope. But when the Bible talks about hope, it's something far more solid and secure than that kind of hope! It's something you can depend on! It's something that will see you through life's hard times with a promise of better things to come! King David said, "For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? ... He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights" (Psalm 18:32-33). How can we have the same kind of secure hope in God?
Join us for our small group Bible studies at 9:30am, and for our worship assembly at 10:30am on Sunday, April 3. We'll be glad to have you as our guest!
This week's Family Report featured an entry from Gary Henry's excellent devotional book, "Diligently Seeking God." While I do my best to write a considerable amount of material for our church family to think about, this was simply too good not to share. I hope you are blessed by it.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
In our effort to live in consistent obedience to our Heavenly Father, we sometimes try to make it easier than it can ever be in this life. We suppose that there must exist some state of holiness where right conduct has become automatic. Yet no such state exists. As G. Campbell Morgan cleverly put it, “Holiness is not the inability to sin, but ability not to sin.” Obedience is never anything less than a choice on our part, and we may as well face the fact that the choice will sometimes be very hard.
There are certainly means by which we can minimize the number of hard moments that come our way. It would be foolish not to do all we can to establish godly habits and patterns of obedience in our lives. When we do this, we gain the advantage of a “momentum” that is going in the right direction. But there will be a certain number of hard moments that still have to be faced, and it’s precisely at these moments that we find out how much commitment to God we really have. If we only obey when the momentum is favorable, what kind of commitment is that?
We should not be so foolish as to underestimate the devil’s diligence. If we ever did get to the point where we could turn our backs on the common temptations with relative ease, our adversary would simply up the ante and hit us with harder choices. Until we’re on the other side and out of his reach, the Evil One is not going to give up on us. It’s naive to look for some stage up ahead where saying “No” to him will have become so easy as to be automatic.
Modern avionics are such that today’s aircraft will, for all practical purposes, fly themselves. In the spiritual realm, however, there is no such thing as an autopilot that will take the hard work out of decision-making. Obedience will always require moment-by-moment choices. Even those who live a long time and make much spiritual progress face this reality: there is never anything more than a decision standing between us and obedience.
“Jesus did not say, ‘Come to me and get it over with.’ He said, ‘If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.’ Daily is the key word.” -Louis Cassels
"Rejoice with those who rejoice..." (Rom. 12:15a)
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." (Eph. 4:31)
When good things happen in our brethren's lives, it can be exceedingly easy to slip into jealousy or bitterness toward their good things. When we see fellow Christians who are blessed with a beautiful family, instead of rejoicing with them in the blessings of God, we envy them for their happiness. When we see other churches that are teaching the gospel and growing, instead of rejoicing for the lost souls being brought to God, we envy them for their growth. As a preacher, I fight the temptation to look at the good work of preachers who are far more wise and more skilled than myself and to be threatened by them, rather than rejoicing that God has given someone the ability to share his word so powerfully!
The two verses you see above are simple commands, but putting them into practice will force us to wrestle with the complexities of our emotions and our attitudes toward others. Are we harboring bitterness toward others' good blessings? Even if it isn't the primary emotion we have toward them, is it there? If so, it must be removed from our hearts. If left alone, it will poison our view of others, our view of God, and our view of self. That's why we must put "all bitterness..." out of our hearts.
How do we do that? Well, at the very least, it begins with truly rejoicing with others who are rejoicing. Simply—and only—enjoying the good things they are enjoying without any thought given to self.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Showing love is a risky endeavor. What if it is rejected? What if I do it wrong? What if it is accepted, but not returned? It is much easier to play it safe and choose not to show any love, but not to show any rejection either. If we are reserved with our efforts to love another person, then at least we risk less disappointment and pain. And so perhaps we do not speak too highly of our loved ones for fear they may think it strange. Perhaps we do not show physical affection to our spouses because we fear it is the wrong timing. Perhaps we decide not to give up our free time for other members of the church because they may not appreciate the sacrifices we’re really making.
But is this the Christian way? Is it our responsibility to watch out for ourselves and keep ourselves insulated from risk and from pain? Quite the opposite, Christian love is meant to mirror the love of Christ—a man who did not insulate himself in any way from damage that others could do to him by rejecting his passionate attempts to help. Even in his earliest teachings, he told that those who show love to the world will be persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12). There is an inherent risk in the way that we love others, and there must be a risk or it is not the kind of true, sacrificial love of which Jesus spoke. Only that kind of love—love without reserve—truly imitates him in his nature and his purpose.
Practically speaking, this means if you know the best way to love someone, do it. Say the words they most desire to hear, go to the places they need you to go, make the sacrifices they need you to make… even if you’re putting yourself at risk of rejection by all of it. This is the very definition of humility. It is not just that we think of ourselves as lowly, although there is that aspect of humility, to be sure. More than that, it is that we make the decisions necessary to risk—and even sacrifice—self in whatever situation we can for the sake of someone else! Can you love the people in your life like Christ loves us?
- Dan Lankford, minister
After Sunday night's Super Bowl win, I wasn't that surprised to hear Peyton Manning's comment that he was planning to talk to "the man upstairs" later that night. That's a definite misunderstanding of who God really is, and a lot of people have that same philosophy of Him. That because He once became and man and dwelt among us, He really is, after all, just like us: a man. Maybe He's different because He lives in Heaven and has some extra powers, but He's essentially still just a man upstairs.
The problem with that way of thinking is that in Psalm 50, God is getting ready to come on his people in judgment for their sins. His people are shocked by this, but God says they shouldn’t be surprised. He essentially tells them, ‘Your problem is that’ “you thought that I was one like yourself” (Psa. 50:21). But God is NOT just a man, and we should not think of Him as just a man.
In the midst of all of his suffering and agony, Job understood the fact that God is not just a man. He even said as much in Job 9:32. “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.”
In Numbers 23, as Balaam is compelled to prophesy in favor of God’s people rather than against them as he intended, he says, "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
And in Isaiah 55, God simply states, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:8-9)
Let us remember the simple truth that although he condescended to become a man and be like us, he also ascended back to his rightful place—high and lifted up! He is not just a man upstairs—he is the great God of the universe! Grander and more glorious than we can imagine him. And rather than passing references to him as “the man upstairs,” let us instead “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” (Psa. 29:2)
- Dan Lankford, minister
In just six days, God brought the universe into existence by the power of his words. On the seventh day—the very first Saturday, God himself took a day of rest. This Saturday of rest became a pattern for the people of God through the time of Moses, David, and into the time of Christ.
However, when Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday suddenly became an exceedingly special day to Jesus’ disciples—those who believe the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in him. His resurrection makes every Sunday a day of crucial importance for Christians.
On Sunday, we honor Christ. Above all else. We celebrate the coming of God's light into this world. We rejoice in the power of his light that could not be overcome by the darkness of death. We worship God as the source of all creation and the source of our new creation in Jesus Christ. We listen intently for his word; wanting to know all we can about his nature and our responsibility toward him. We honor him as our Lord with adoration and song and humble obedience from the heart. On Sunday, we honor Christ.
On Sunday, we spend time with family. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers had come, he plainly taught that his true family are those who need him, who follow him, and who obey him. The same is true of us. We are brothers and sisters with each other because of our common connection with him. Christians of all eras have understood the tremendous value of fellow Christians in their lives. Especially in view of the facts of Sunday—that Christ was raised and that we will be raised together with him. We need these connections, and we get to enjoy them on Sunday.
And on Sunday, we look forward to heaven. Because of the resurrection of Christ—because light was not overcome by darkness, we have hope firmly set in the presence of God in heaven. And it is not the kind of hope that world gives. That kind of hope can disappoint. The kind of hope we have is an anchor for our souls. It keeps us focused. It reminds us to be joyful. It gives us strength to see the light even when it seems most dim. This hope makes us long for more Sundays here, but even more than that, it makes us long for our own resurrection—when we can forever be with the Lord!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The question in the title of this article was asked to me in a Bible study recently. And as soon as I heard it, I thought, “What a great question!” What is grace? Specifically, what is God’s grace? What does it mean for us? What does it tell us about God?
I find it helpful to define grace by comparing it to mercy. Mercy is God’s way of “letting us off the hook.” It is his willingness to forego the punishment we deserve for our sins—the death that sin should cause in every life (Rom. 6:23). It was God’s mercy that allowed Jesus to die as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins and save us from death. The cross is God’s mercy, and praise His name for its power!
Grace, then, takes God’s mercy to an even higher level. Where mercy provides a stay of execution for all of us as convicted sinners, grace gives the blessing of brand new life in Christ. Grace is the abundant richness of God’s gifts to us. And so where God’s mercy foregoes the punishment we deserve, God’s grace goes above and beyond giving us every favor that we, by all rights, should never have received! Where the cross is God’s mercy, the empty tomb is his abounding grace to give life to those who believe in his name! And praise His name for the power of that empty tomb!
Grace, then is God’s above-and-beyond generosity in action. In it, he shows the true depths of his ability to forgive.
In 2007, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and killed 5 girls, aged 6-13, before turning the gun on himself. In the days that followed, the Amish community reached out to the killer’s family to offer mercy in the form of forgiveness and condolences for their own losses. In the days that followed that, the community showed immense grace when they set up a charity foundation for the killer’s family to pay for his funeral and to help his widow with whatever expenses she might incur after her husband’s death.
Of course, this is what God’s mercy and grace do for us. His mercy offers us forgiveness, and his grace gives us all riches to enjoy in Jesus Christ! Grace is not get-out-of-guilt-free card, but it is a powerful example of how good our God really is. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)
- Dan Lankford, minister
"And they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' So they strengthened their hands for the good work." (Neh. 2:18)
When God's rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah's leadership, they did so for the glory of Zion—Jerusalem—the city of God. In the New Testament, the church is called Zion—the new Jerusalem—the city of God. Our vision for church growth is based on these concepts. We want the church to grow, not for our own glory, but for the glory of God!
Our elders' vision for 2016 sets a framework for everything we do as the people of God. From personal character development to evangelism to greater service... this vision gives a Biblical framework for the entire process of growth. We believe that what we do must all be centered in the word of God — his design for his churches. We are committed to following God’s will in both the spirit and the pattern of his kingdom.
The three key elements of this vision are:
Rise Up & Build... Your Life On The Rock
Goal: Living the Gospel
Jesus said, “He who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:26). We hope for every Christian to desire and develop the essential virtues of faithful saints. In 2016, we, as a church will participate in:
• Spring & Fall Lectures Series
• Vacation Bible School (Theme: “Truth Hunters”)
• Regular Assemblies and Bible Studies
Rise Up & Build... Sinners Into Saints
Goal: Sharing the Gospel
Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). We intend to work together as a church family to spread the Gospel. Toward this end, we, as a church, are committed to the following:
• Improved Guest Relations & Increased Personal Studies
• Three Invite-A-Friend Sundays
• 1-On-1 Evangelism Training
Rise Up & Build... The Body of Christ
Goal: Participating In the Gospel
The Holy Spirit said, “he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). These ideas will lead us as we strive for improvements within our congregation. Toward this end, the church is committed to the following:
• Improved Bible Classes for Children and Adults
• Training For New Teachers and New Leaders to Serve The Church
• Deepened Relationships Within Our Church Family
We are excited about pursuing this vision, and we believe that God will bless us with growth as we follow him in faith.
As a year begins, we inevitably make resolutions to make the new year better than the old one. Whether your resolutions have to do with money, health, family, or spirituality, I would like to offer a piece of advice which I believe will help you accomplish more: Just do one thing.
Choose one thing that you want to accomplish in each area of your life, and center all of your focus on that one thing. If your goal is to be more fit, then make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing. If your goal is to have more financial freedom to help other people, make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing. If your goal is to draw closer to the Lord, make sure all of your decisions contribute to that one thing.
This concept — the one thing — is modeled for us in the life of Paul. In a letter to the Philippians, he said, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). Every decision had to be filtered through the lens of drawing closer to the prize of God’s upward call in Christ. His devotion to God was not one segment of his life or one division of his time, it was the entirety of how his thoughts and actions.
A professor at a Bible college assigned his class to graph the uses of their time on a pie chart. Assign the portion of each week that you devote to being a student, a parent, a neighbor, a civic leader, etc. “But,” he said, “Don’t put ‘Christian time’ on your graph. Because ‘Christian’ is what defines the whole graph.”
I hope that whatever your goals are for this year, that you can definitively say they fit into the singular idea of being a better Christian. And I hope that we can all take Paul’s view of the transition from an old year to the new one. “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
- Dan Lankford, minister