A gospel meeting week or a VBS week or a week spent at camp all leave us with a high level of spiritual enthusiasm. People are tired, but still somehow energized. Special spiritual events leave us with a renewed sense of dedication and zeal about spiritual things. We often walk away thinking, either consciously or subconsciously, “I had forgotten how good we have it as Christians; I’m going to tell my neighbors and invite them to a Bible study.” Or we think, “I love this Bible-learning stuff! I’m going to re-double my efforts in daily reading so I can always be learning like I was this week.” Or maybe you walk away from a special event thinking, “I wish we could have events like this more often. They do so much for my spiritual walk.” I genuinely hope all of us can relate to this kind of spiritual excitement at some point of life.
I want to encourage a couple of thoughts about these spiritual high points. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with them. In fact, God created us so that our emotions and our wills would work in tandem. It is a good thing when our emotions help us to be more spiritually minded, and there is no reason to fight against its happening. There is no need to believe these emotional times are harmful to our faith. In Nehemiah, as the people were rebuilding the decimated city of God, we read that, “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Neh. 12:43).
Often, when we experience a spiritual high point like that, we assume that “This is how Christianity is supposed to feel.” And so we expect that when we renovate our spiritual practices like Bible reading and prayer, we will receive the same feelings. Let me exhort us to be very careful when chasing after what Christianity should feel like. The reality is that God talks very, very little about how we should feel as his people. He spends the vast majority of words on how what should be as his people. And this should give us great comfort in knowing that even when we feel sick, tired, depressed and when we feel exuberant, healthy, and excited… God can be praised and pleased in all those times.
Let me encourage you not to evaluate your spiritual life by the feelings it produces. Evaluate it by the teachings in the word of God. Are you living and making choices that would please him? Even if it doesn't feel like a high point, you may still find that your faith is acting at a high level.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
One thing that I love about Eastland is that we all worship together. I realize that might seem like an obvious thing to some, but here's why I think it's worth talking about:
In many churches, it is the common practice to remove the children from the main worship service and put them into a special "children's church" where they do things that are considered more "age appropriate" for them. This obviously creates less distraction for the adults in worship, but it means removing the children from where they can worship with their parents and the other members of the church.
Here's why we all worship together at Eastland.
Children need to be challenged with the word of God just like adults do. If the worship is challenging for our children, we parents must teach them to rise to the occasion—not lower the occasion so they are comfortable. If we remove the challenges of life and spirituality, how will they learn to rise to those challenges and overcome them?
Children need to be shown how to take worship seriously. I don't mean that they need to be shown how to be stoic in worship; I mean that they need to see what it looks like when people open their hearts and bow their heads to God. They need to see what it looks like when people sing about the gospel of the Lord because they accept and live by that gospel. They need to see what it looks like when we give something of value (and let's be honest, our money is valuable when we have a family to feed) to God because we love him.
Children need to see their parents' faith in action. Regardless of how hard we try, there will always be interruptions that mean we are not able to share our faith with our kids as fully as we want to in the home. If, when we go to worship, our children are isolated from their parents and again lose an opportunity to see our faith in action, when will they see it? Above all other causes, the main reason children leave the faith of their parents when they grow up is because they have never seen it in action. Children should see us worship, pray, give, read the Bible, help the poor, cry with a brother or sister, celebrate someone's repentance, and say "amen" when God is praised! Moms and dads, our kids desperately need that from us!
One thing I love about Eastland is that even with the potential for distractions and difficulties associated with having children in the worship with us, we still worship together. We share in the singing of praise together. We humbly bow in prayer together. We remember Jesus' cross together. We learn about his Good News together. It's an integral part of who we are.
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matt. 19:14)
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
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
"The truth is most great men in history have become great because they aggressively pursued knowledge. They overcame gaps in their early education... They took responsibility for their education and did not wait for the knowledge they needed to come to them." (from Mansfield's Book of Manly Men, by Stephen Mansfield)
I read that this morning, and I was struck by how well it applies to the need for Bible learning. And I thought about it especially in terms of Paul's life.
Mansfield: "...they aggressively pursued knowledge."
Paul: Educated under the best rabbis, a Pharisee who considered himself blameless in respect to the law (Phil. 3:6).
Mansfield: "...overcame gaps in their early education."
Paul: Met Jesus on the way to Damascus, learned the new and better way to serve God with zeal.
Mansfield: "...did not wait for the knowledge they needed to come to them."
Paul: Upon his conversion, immediately sought to be part of the church—an environment where people who knew Jesus would be.
My prayer for you today is that you will recognize what a great source of education—of the highest learning—is available to you in the pages of God's word. Don't wait for a Sunday or Wednesday night to roll around so someone else can be responsible for your education. Pursue the knowledge of God! Make Bible reading a priority today! Get into God's word so that God's word can get into your life!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In some places throughout Scripture the nature of God is declared plainly, explained fully, or demonstrated undeniably. In the opening chapters of Genesis, for example, the fact that God is in control of nature is demonstrated by the fact that He created nature. In the book of Exodus, the fact that God can redeem his people is demonstrated His freeing them from the slavery of Egypt. In the book of Leviticus, the fact that God is holy is seen in the holiness He demands from his people.
But while these passages exist in some volume throughout the Bible, the entire Bible reminds us of these truths. Subtle reminders of God’s character are dispersed through so many other topics.
Consider a phrase from Hebrews 4:16. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace.” The phrase “throne of grace” is only used this once in all of Scripture, but the concepts are by no means unique to this verse.
The fact that God sits on a “throne” demonstrates His kingship. He is sovereign. He has sole reign of all that He has created. He gets to make the rules, and not only because He demands to be in charge, but simply because He is above all. Simply by pointing out that He is on a throne, the Holy Spirit has reminded us that God will always and must always have authority.
And the fact that God’s throne is one of “grace” illustrates one of the balancing aspects of His kingship. He is not a king who only demands to be respected; He is a king who deserves to be respected because of his grace and generosity. And while an earthly king can only be approached by certain people—those whom he chooses to allow—God the King approaches His people. He came down to our level with all of His blessings. He does not remain high and separated from His subjects. He is graciously willing to come to the same level as His subjects.
It is in this simple phrase that we are subtly reminded that our God is the perfect kind of ruler for us. A truly benevolent monarch with only our best interests in mind. He is a king who, despite all the reasons that he should not love us… loves us anyway! Brothers and sisters, let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace!
- 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
There was another shooting on a college campus this past week. At a community college in Oregon, a man came onto the campus with multiple guns and sinister plans to kill. He killed nine people before he turned the gun on himself.
Perhaps the most harrowing part of the story is the account relayed by one student of how the gunman made people stand, then asked them if they were Christians, and then proceeded to shoot them if they answered “yes.” This story—shared by several major news outlets—got me thinking about my confession.
When I was a child, teachers in my Bible classes and devos would often ask me, “If someone held a gun to your head and asked if you were a Christian, would you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’?” And in a moment of pure transparency, I admit that I hated the question because I thought that sort of thing would never actually happen. That’s the kind of thing that happened in ancient times or in countries where Christianity is against the law. And since the only country I knew of where that was true was China, I just planned to never visit China.
But that view was never correct. Even when I felt that way, there was still a chance that I would be asked to die for my faith. An Oregon community college is not the place one would expect these things to happen, but they did happen. And our lives are not where we expect that kind of thing to happen, but they may yet happen.
The solution to this is not that we would start looking over our shoulders and being suspicious of everyone as a possible threat. The solution is rather that we must put our faith in Jesus Christ when things are going well. The solution is to trust that even if someone wanted to take our lives for our faith in him, we would still be safe. The solution is that we must “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” But rather, we must “fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
This kind of ultimate trust takes a serious focus on the things we cannot see. It takes a serious determination every day to be true to him no matter the threats it may bring. And it takes a serious conviction that no matter what we face here, God is actually able to deliver us to something so far greater!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The pope's very recent visit to America was covered by multiple news outlets. One that caught my attention was the email headline I received from USA Today on Saturday. It read, "Pope Francis urges church to break down walls in Philly Mass; The city is the final stop in a pontifical happening that has lured millions of exhilerated fans." The last line is the most intriguing to me as it talks about the pope's millions of fans.
I thought it was an interesting and revealing choice of words. Because the Catholic religion considers the pope to be the cornerstone of the church, and his words are to be considered as carrying the authority of God. And yet his followers are not called "disciples" — they are called "fans."
I want to just encourage you to think about that difference today. Because while the pope can have "fans" (he is, after all, just a man), it is not okay for us to just be "fans" of Jesus. One writer asked the question, "Have you made a decision for Jesus or have you committed to Jesus?" There is a difference.
We are not called to just be fans of our favorite ancient teacher, but disciples of our Lord and Savior. Devoted. Driven. And defined by Christ in our hearts. How are you doing with that?
"...in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy..." (1 Pet. 3:15)
- 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