Today, I read Ezekiel 34 in preparation for my Sunday sermon. But I've barely done any prep for the sermon because I can't stop thinking about the ways that God describes himself here. I'm just posting vv. 11-31 for you to read. And I hope you'll be as moved by them—particulrly the last verses—as I am today. We serve a AWESOME God!
11 For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.
Ezekiel 24:11-31, ESV
“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
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3)
In the history of the Middle Ages, one can find a number of accounts of people who were sentenced to capital punishment in some sinister ways. The sentencer: the Catholic church leaders. The crime: translating the Bible into a language which could be understood by the general public. William Tyndale’s is the most memorable story of the type. He was hanged and then his body was burned for his translation of the bible into English in 1536.
I imagine most of us would look at the stories of Tyndale and others and think, “Of course the Bible should be translated! Everyone needs to know what it says! Why would anyone ever think it should be kept from people?”
Part of the reason for prohibiting Bible translation was to keep control of the things that would be taught. It is not difficult to see in the histories of that time that the man-made political system of the Catholic church did its due diligence to keep people from studying the Bible and seeing the true nature of salvation and Christ’s kingdom. This standing in the way of truth is certainly not to be commended. It was ungodly, impious, and sinful.
But another reason for keeping the Bible out of the hands of common man was the belief that the common man could not correctly handle the great truths of the Bible. And while we might look back on that line of reasoning and sneer at it, we would do well to ask ourselves if we are, in fact, correctly handling the word of God. When it cost Jesus his life to make the plan available, and when it cost the lives of others to make it available in our language; are we going to waste the beautiful blessing that it is? Are we familiar with the word of God as it truly speaks, or just as we would like it to speak? Are we lackadaisical in our approach to study and reading? Are we intellectually dishonest with the Bible? Are we reading it with humility and submission to the power of Christ, or not?
I would never advocate the idea that the Scriptures should only belong to a select, small group of people. But I do want us to all make sure that if the word of God is within our grasp, that we take hold and make the most of it.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
In the Bible, when good things happened, people blessed the name of the Lord! For example, when Ruth had married Boaz and had delivered their first son, the women who knew her said, "Blessed be the Lord... and may his name be renowned in Israel!" (Ruth 4:14)
Also in the Bible, when bad things happened, people of faith still blessed the name of the Lord! So when Job had lost his children and his fortune in a single day, he said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
The thing to learn from this is that God is good all the time. He is just as much God in our good times and in our bad times. And he is just as blessed, no matter the situation we're in. And although there are times when his goodness is seen more evidently, we need to make a special effort to know Him well enough that we can acknowledge and appreciate his goodness ALWAYS.
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
Some people are best motivated by caution. Public service announcements work very well to scare some people away from smoking, texting & driving, or other things like that. Warnings that make us afraid of dangerous, hurtful, or sad consequences stick with us and drive us to live safely, cautiously, and deliberately. We don’t think so much about doing more, but we do think about not doing things badly.
Some people are best motivated by reward. The possibility of a pay raise or a promotion drives us to excel, progress, or push forward. When someone shows a better way to accomplish something, we immediately gravitate toward the new opportunity to be better than ever before. We don’t think so much about playing it safe or heeding warnings, but we do think about doing things better than we’ve done them in the past.
In both cases, we tend to look at those who are motivated differently and think their outlook is flawed. So a caution-motivated person wonders, “Why aren’t more people taking these warnings seriously?” And a reward-motivated person wonders, “Why are people so bent on NOT doing stuff when there’s so much to be done?”
The Scriptures present us with the unique method of using BOTH types of motivation. And so we are warned to “look carefully then how you walk” (Eph. 5:15), and we are also encouraged that “we are not of those who shrink back” (Heb. 10:39). We are sternly admonished to “note then... the severity of God” (Rom. 11:22), and on the other side of the coin, one disciple talked about his reward when he said, “I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:8).
The Lord’s wisdom is shown in his appeal to all different kinds of hearts. This is why our teaching must follow his word so closely—so that it is not just up to us to decide how everyone should think, it’s his guidance that matters. And that’s why the Bible should be so important to each of us individually. Whatever it is in God's word that motivates you, hang onto it!
- Dan Lankford, evangelist
The lawyer asked Jesus a question. The question was, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer: “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.’” Jesus simply told the lawyer, “Do this, and you will live.” The next phrase in the conversation intrigues, astounds, and humbles me. The text says, “And he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
I’m humbled by that description of the lawyer’s motivation, because I have done and said quite a few shameful things when seeking to justify my sinful attitudes or actions. And I suspect you have too. See if any of these could apply to you.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” ignored the sin in his life—swept it under the rug in an effort to alleviate his guilt.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” attacked the person who brought sin to his attention in an effort to deflect blame and hide his shame.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” laughed about his sin and made everyone else laugh so that it didn’t seem so bad.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” looked for others—especially highly decorated or well-known people who practiced the same sin in hopes it would soften his guilt.
- “And he, desiring to justify himself,” stopped reading his Bible because it challenged his lifestyle, stopped attending church because it challenged his attitudes, stopped sharing his life with God’s people because they challenged his choices.
My grandfather preached a sermon whose title line said, “You can smash the barometer, but you can’t stop the storm.” He was right. We can remove all the indicators that we are living in sin. But we cannot change the realities of right and wrong. And we cannot change the reality of God’s will. We can look for all sorts of ways to justify our actions and attitudes, but only one thing truly justifies us: the blood of Jesus Christ.
- Dan Lankford, evangeslist
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