This is the bag I carry most days. It isn't much, but it’s usually by my side. Especially when I travel, it’s always by my side. So it makes for a good representation of what I carry with me as I go into my daily walk with other Christians, with my family, with the world, and with God.
In the bag, I am going to carry my Bible—the word of God. It represents God’s guidance and his presence with me every day. As I begin each new day of life, it’s one of the main things I want with me.
Secondly, I am going to carry my favorite reminder about prayer. It’s a book titled Too Busy Not To Pray, and just the title reminds me of my constant need to talk to God. As I begin each new day of life, it’s one of the main things I want with me.
Thirdly, I’ve got a picture of my wife and a picture of my son. They are exceedingly precious reminders to me that I belong to my family and they belong to me and we are all devoted to each other. As I begin a day of life, I remember that they are always with me.
Finally, I want to put a rock into the back—a reminder of Jesus’ words that “he who hears these words of mind and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matt. 7:24). The rock represents my faith—the solid foundation of any life truly anchored to Jesus Christ.
What if, on a very small piece of paper, I chose to write down… the name of a bar where I used to get drunk… a juicy bit of gossip fodder about someone that I know I shouldn’t share but I want to anyway… the date that someone in my church offended me so I can keep the bitterness in my heart toward them… the web address for a porn site I used to visit… a plan to cheat on an exam in a way that worked for me once before… an ex’s phone number… the basic outline of my plan to avenge myself and deliver evil for the evil that was done to me…?
What if I take that small piece of paper and try to tuck it away discreetly among the words of God, my love for my family, the foundation of faith in Jesus, and my prayer life? Does that make sense? Does packing that in there sound like a recipe for spiritual success?
The Holy Spirit said, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:14, emphasis added)
God knows that when we provide an opportunity for the flesh—no matter how small and no matter how much else we have done to make opportunities for the soul, we are setting ourselves up for spiritual failure.
In this New Year, I would plead with you to make no provision for the flesh! Do not give yourself an opportunity to sin. Pull closer to God than you ever have before, and plan to give your ENTIRE heart to Him.
- Dan Lankford, minister
- Thanks to brother Don Truex for illustrating this principle to me in such a powerful way.
The University of Alabama won the national football championship last night in a riveting matchup with Clemson University. As the game ended, commentary abounded about Coach Saban's one-word mantra for his team this year: FINISH.
That one word of motivation is posted all around Alabama's football facilities as a constant reminder for his plays of the need for perseverance. And the team did that yesterday. They finished. They stayed strong, stayed diligent, and kept pushing all the way to the end. And they won.
Paul described the ending of his life in overwhelmingly positive terms. He finished the course of this life and trusted fully in the grace of God that there would be a crown of righteousness laid up for him. Paul had done what the Lord tells us all to do in Luke 9. He had put his hand to the plow and never looked back. He had stayed faithful. He had FINISHED.
Christians everywhere would do well to make this our mantra for the new year and for all our lives. Finish. Set yourself up to finish right now, especially as we're all just getting started with a new year! Let's be determined. Let's be dependent on God. Let's be disciples of Jesus.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Every new year presents us with an opportunity to reflect on our past selves and make plans for our future selves. Below, you’ll find a collection of thoughts from God’s word that I hope will help you do that well today, tomorrow, and in all the coming days of 2016.
"For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do…” (1 Pet. 4:3)
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:25-29)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:30-31)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Col. 3:1-2)
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
“…in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:9-12)
Meditate on these principles. Determine new ways you can implement them in your life. Remember the power that God promises to those who seek to live in his grace! Trust in that power. No commandment is more important than this one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Happy New Year! I love you, and I’m praying for all of us to grow in Christ in 2016!
Let Us Rise Up & Build!
On Sunday morning, January 24, our elders will present their plans for the year 2016. "Rise Up & Build," a plan and theme based on Nehemiah 2:18, will give us a framework and a definitive set of Bible-based goals for church growth.
Join us at our 10:30 worship service on the third Sunday in January to hear some ways that you can help us "Rise Up & Build" the Lord's kingdom!
The past week has been an emotional roller coaster for a lot of people. Christmas was this past Friday with all of its joy and frivolity. And then the next day, a massive winter storm hit the central states with snow, flooding, violent thunderstorms, and dangerous ice. There were travel hassles, car accidents, lost homes, and several lives lost in several states as a result.
As we've been studying "A Life Lost... And Found" in our Wednesday night classes, it has given me a little greater appreciation for the enormous sorrow that this week's losses will inevitably bring to many. The joy of the holidays will likely be tainted for many next year as they remember how much was lost in the same week. And as God's people, it's important that our hearts are open enough to care about those who are hurting—those who've been injured, who've lost their homes, who've lost their moms & dads or siblings or their children. It's part of who we are to be compassionate people who feel the pain of others and do our best to help them! We are called to be connected people—those who see this world's problems and respond appropriately.
And yet, times like these also give us a chance to remember what the hymn writer said: "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through. My [real] treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue!" The Holy Spirit made a similar point when he said, "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:6-8). This is obviously not meant to say that we just don't care about the people in our lives here on earth or that we should never celebrate a joyous time here on earth. Plenty of other Bible passages tell us to do both of things to the fullest! But when we see scenes like this week's storms and the devastation that is caused, we would do well to remember that while these things matter a great deal, they matter even more when we view them through the lens of what matters MOST — the power, the grace, and the unshakeable hope of belonging to Christ Jesus! The long view doesn't make us distant from the problems of other people in this world; it gives us the ability to walk by faith and to expect God's redeeming power at the end of all things.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus instructs us on proper judgment of other people. More specifically, he instructs us on improper judgment of others and the consequences of it. Often, when Jesus's facetious example of a man with a log in his eye trying to remove a speck from his brother's eye is being discussed, we end the discussion at a prohibition on removing the speck from others' eyes because we are sinners ourselves. But we should not end the discussion there because Jesus doesn't.
He continues, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt. 7:5). In all of our study of these verses, we need to see the one crucial truth that Jesus does intend for us to help others see their sin and remove it from their lives. He does intend for us to remove the speck from someone else's eye, but he does not intend for us to do so from a hypocritically judgmental viewpoint of the heart.
As Christians, this tell us two things:
1) We must take an honest look at our own hearts. If there is sin, it must be removed. Period.
2) When we see a brother in sin, it is important that we are willing to HELP. Not simply to judge, but to save a brother from sin (Jas. 5:19-20).
- Dan Lankford, minister
When Jesus spoke about anxiety in Matthew 6:25, he spoke of two common objects of worry. Number 1: our lives—the food we will eat & drink. Number 2: our bodies—the clothing we will wear. For those who do not have these things in life, the tendency is to worry about getting them. But for those who do have these things in life (as the vast majority of Americans do), the tendency is to worry about losing them. And this kind of concern is manifested toward far more than just our food and clothing. But there is a biblical balance that can offer relief from our anxiety.
When we are blessed with great wealth in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that wealth or misusing it. However, the Bible gives us this advice: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not... to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim. 6:17) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
When we are blessed to be married in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend the most of our time worrying about losing that marriage or messing it up. However, the Bible gives this advice: “Enjoy life with the wife [or husband] whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” (Eccl. 9:9) Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s good gifts!
And, most importantly, when we are blessed to have a relationship with God in this lifetime, it can be a real temptation to spend most of our time worrying about losing God’s grace or ruining his good favor toward us. It can become a temptation to spend our lives looking over our shoulders for God—wondering what trap he might catch us in at any moment of lapsed diligence. However, the Bible gives us this encouragement: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13) If you are the kind of person whose life is spent with an anxious view of God, please be reminded that he sincerely loves you. The fact that he came to earth as a man and died as a criminal tells us that more than anyone else ever could, God has loved every one of us. Therefore, we must keep a balanced perspective and enjoy God’s awesome presence in our lives!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
Today, I was really struck by a prayer challenge and a question about it.
The challenge: pray this prayer over your children:
“God, thank you for my child. And God I pray that they will grow up to love you and serve you exactly like I do. And God I pray that they will grow up and handle their money exactly like I do. And God I pray that this child will grow up and visit the exact same websites that I do. And God I pray that this child will grow up and treat their spouse the exact way that I do. And God I pray that this child will be as industrious and hard-working as I am.”
And the question: would you want God to answer that prayer?
When we talk about baptism, it is easy to approach it from an unbalanced perspective. If we are not attentive, we can easily slip into an inordinate pressure for someone to be baptized quickly without adequately informing them of Jesus' requirements of lifelong commitment (like he talks about in Luke 9:57-62). On the other side of the coin, if we are not attentive, we can easily slip into an inordinate pressure for someone to understand every level of commitment required for discipleship before they are ever baptized into Christ (like the Holy Spirit tells us in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 16).
There must be balance to these two ideas, just as there is balance in the scripture. Jesus undoubtedly meant what he said when he talked about the tenacious level of commitment which baptism requires and symbolizes (Rom. 6:1-4 says the man of sin is put to death, symbolizing a permanent change in our lives). And yet, in another place, the Holy Spirit says, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).
This balanced perspective—a perspective which includes both understandings—is important. We must be diligent to emphasize the need for salvation through baptism—encouraging people in a gentle and caring and urgent way. And we must be just as diligent to understand that some are simply not ready for the commitment that involves, and so we encourage them to take the commitment seriously and make their decision with GREAT care and LOTS of prayer about it.
I'll have more thoughts on balancing our understanding of baptism in next week's Tuesday blog post.
As a side note: this would be a good message to share with your teenagers and pre-teens, moms & dads. I'm remembering my own unbalanced perspective on this during those years of my life, and this may prove to help your kids with it, whether you simply encourage them to read it or use this as a jump-off to talk about it with them.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The apostle Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16). He knew the power of the word of God! He understood that the real power for salvation was not in himself and his ideas. He understood that the real power for salvation was not in a particular sect of Judaism or Christianity. He understood that the real power for salvation was not in the good deeds he might do.
Paul understood that the real power to save comes from God alone. And that power comes through the Bible—the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. This is why it is so imperative that we follow only the Bible’s teachings on what we do and how we think.
This past week, I had a tremendously enjoyable Bible study with two young men from the University of Louisville. They had recently visited our services, and so they asked about why we don’t use instrumental music. They knew some other people who attend a church whose sign reads, "Church of Christ," and their congregation sings a cappella. So when we examined what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about music in public worship, one of them said, "I didn’t realize it was a Bible thing. I thought it was a Church-of-Christ thing."
I was actually quite encouraged by this response. And there are two perspectives I would encourage us all to think about from this.
Number 1: If you are a guest with us here at Eastland, we welcome you. And we want you to know that we are an independent congregation. We are not part of any denomination. We simply do our best to follow the word of God—not to do anything just because "it’s a church-of-Christ thing." But because we, like the apostle Paul, believe that the power of God is found in the Gospel; not in ourselves. If you wonder about something we believe or practice, it's our goal to be able to show you that belief or practice clearly in what the Bible teaches.
Number 2: If you are a member of our congregation, please do not tell people that any of the things we do are done because "it’s a Church-of-Christ thing." If you do not know how a certain practice or belief is Bible-based, make it a priority to find that out! It simply won’t do for us to teach the world "Church of Christ doctrine" as though that’s what we follow anyway. The world needs to know the power of Gospel—the word of God. Because only that is the power of God for salvation.
- Dan Lankford, minister