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Face Reality

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Here’s a piece of practical advice straight from the Bible: It’s healthy to attend a funeral once in awhile (Eccl. 7:2). That’s not to say that it’s pleasant, but it is healthy for the young, the middle-aged, and the aged to face the reality that it presents us with. Namely, that life is finite. Everyone dies, and knowing that increases our consciousness of how we live (see Psalm 90:9-12).

It’s often not very fun to face reality, but God calls us to do it. He wants us to live with a firm intellectual grasp on the hard facts of existence. And there are plenty of areas where it’s necessary for believers.

  • Authentic confession and repentance of sin requires a hard look at what we’ve actually done with our hands and thought in our hearts. 
  • Godly family life requires a hard look at our own habits toward our spouses and our children, and it also occasionally demands that we face the reality of their lives (e.g. not making excuses for our kids, etc).
  • Biblical money management calls us to face the reality of how we use our money. Are we living beyond our means? Are we slaves to debt? Are we using money mainly for our fulfillment or for God’s things?

The list could go on for a long time, but our job would be the same for each item on it: to face the realities of life, the Bible, God, and ourselves and determine whether they match up as they should. It’s always easier to let life pass us by in a haze of half-awareness, but it’s always healthier to face reality and adjust to live a better life as a result.

- Dan Lankford, minister

The Acts of the Lord

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

This week's daily Bible reading guides us through the book of Acts. This, along with the four Gospels, is one of the most important books of the New Testament. And while that might sound odd to say that some Bible books are more important than others ("They should ALL be important to us."), the truth is that the teaching in the epistles depends on the stories in the Gospels and Acts. Without the story of Christ, the teachings of Christ are robbed of most (maybe all) of their power.

And that's where we can see the great value of the book of Acts. It starts with these words: "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen." Two things stand out about that introduction: 1) That the apostles were commissioned to carry the Gospel and Jesus' teachings into the world. It was now in their hands. But perhaps even more important for us to realize is that 2) the work they did was Jesus' work.

The book of Acts is not a departure from the stories of Jesus' life; it is a continuation of his story. While the Gospels told the story of Jesus' work on the earth, Acts tells the story of Jesus' work over all the earth. The power in the book of Acts is the same power at work in the Gospels: the divine power of Jesus that could not be stopped by persecution, could not be overcome by darkness, and could not be contained by death.

So as you read the book of Acts in the coming weeks, remember that its power is the same power that's been in the story all along. The power in the Story is that it all points us to Jesus, "the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt. 16:16)

- Dan Lankford, minister

Everyday Gratitude

Sunday, November 03, 2019

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

The routines of life can be very healthy for us. Routine exercise strengthens the body, routine communication blesses relationships, routine generosity increases our compassion, and a routine day of worship strengthens our souls.

But even healthy routines always come with an inherent challenge: we are tempted to become accustomed to things and take them for granted.

In daily life, one symptom of this is a lack of gratitude. While the Spirit instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances, sometimes the familiarity of each day deadens our spiritual senses to how grateful we could (and should) be toward God.

But every day is full of gifts from him. It is a gift to be part of a loving family. Moms & dads, our kids are gifts from God. It is a gift to have health enough to be independent. A stable job, a comfortable home, a civilized and safe neighborhood, the ability to learn, the blessing of good food… It can all seem so basic, but it ought to routinely nudge our minds to be grateful to the merciful God who has given it all.

And that’s why gratitude makes sense “in all circumstances.” Even small, everyday blessings are good gifts from our Father. And so while there are times when grander things make our gratitude swell, God’s people are defined by simple, everyday gratitude for his many blessings.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Excellence In Worship, From the Temple to the Pews

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Everything that we do for God should be done with excellence.

I have been reminded of this recently in studying about Israel's priests. God's commandments for them set a lofty precedent. The way they behaved, the way they taught the law, and particularly the way that they served in worship were all supposed to be of the highest level of moral and practical excellence. When they did not give their best, God condemned them strongly (cf. Mal. 1:6-14).

This is an easy lesson for us to learn from God's instructions for the priests: If he wanted excellence in worship from them, then he surely wants the same from us. So put thought effort into what you do in worship. If you will lead in a service, think deliberately about what job you will do, why you are doing it, and how you can do it best. Pray for God to help give you the right heart and the right abilities to glorify him. Learn from those who do things well, and imitate their skills. Above all, come with a mind set on rendering the quality of service which God deserves.

And even if you are not leading in worship, plan to give your best to God. Sing well, pray sincerely, eat his Supper with joyful gratitude, and have his word on your heart so that you can engage with it even more in Bible class. There are myriad ways that we can improve on our service to him. As he expected excellence from the priests who stood in his presence, we should serve with excellence as we stand in his presence every time we worship him.

- Dan Lankford, minister

re: the Golden Rule

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

In Sunday's morning message, I highlighted the importance of following the Golden Rule in our marriages. Then, when it came up in yesterday's daily Bible reading, I stopped and considered it a little more, because it is said and emphasized slightly differently in Luke's gospel than in Matthew's. So here are the verses and a few thoughts that struck me about them.

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:27-30)

The first thing that occurred to me is that Jesus' way of living is always going to be counter-cultural. This is the kind of passage that sounds great, but it doesn't feel like the proper thing in the moment. And it's not something that's easier for baptized believers than it is for unbelievers—we all struggle to actually live like he talks about in this passage. If someone takes our stuff, our temptation is to protect the rest of our stuff from that happening again—not to give more to the person who took from us. If someone wounds us, our temptation is create distance or emotional safeguards so that doesn't happen again—not to willingly turn the other cheek right into the emotional line of fire. It's a principle that is hard to live by, and yet it's what gives Christianity the power to turn the world upside down with such simple ways of thinking.

The second thing that occurred to me is that Jesus isn't just speaking in generic principles here—he's making specific commands. And that's something that convicts me. Because it's easy to say, "I should be willing to be generous, even when generosity is challenging." But it's a different level of difficulty when Jesus says, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back," and I know that is exactly what he means. The questions I have to answer for myself are these: Am I truly ready to give to everyone who asks something from me? Am I truly ready to let someone steal from me and not try to recover my stolen property? Most of my life, my answer to those questions has been no. But I have to re-evaluate that, repent of it, and make a change. And maybe you do too.

Living for Jesus is hard sometimes. But it's always worth it. May God give us strength.

- Dan Lankford, minister

God's Blessings For Those Who Seek God

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Here’s something you can take to the bank: When God’s creatures do God’s will, they receive God’s blessings. This was true of Creation. When God spoke (“let there be light,” etc.) and the universe obeyed, the narrative says, “It was very good.” And when God’s people followed his laws and lived by his wisdom during the time of David & Solomon, he blessed them with riches and power and influence. And when the church lived for Christ in the first century in spite of all the persecution they faced, he blessed them with love for one another, with peace in the midst of suffering, and with growth across the whole known world.

When God’s creatures do God’s will, they receive God’s blessings.

Let’s be clear: that’s not the same message as the Prosperity Gospel. That message says that if you do God’s will, he will give you good health and abundant wealth. It is self-serving religion for those who are seeking blessings. True spirituality is different.

First, the promises are not the same as the Prosperity Gospel. Look back at the examples mentioned above; God’s blessings come in many forms. It’s not all about health and wealth.

Second, and even more importantly, true spirituality is for those who are seeking God himself—not just his blessings. For those who find satisfaction just in knowing him, they will need no other blessing than that. But it is the nature of the God whom we serve that once we are satisfied to enjoy his love and do his will, he will open his hand with abundant blessings. You can count on it.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Better Late Than Never

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

You've heard that phrase, right? We frequently use it as an excuse for tardiness, but there's actually a true spiritual principle in it. Jesus even once told a parable which shows, as one of the many lessons that can be drawn from it, that it's better to commit yourself to live and serve your Master at a late point in life than to never come into his service at all (see Matt. 20:1-16). And we could think of many applications of the principle in the way that we live our lives:

  • Better to be a good spouse now, even if you haven't been for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Better to be a great parent now, even if you haven't been for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Better to be evangelistic to a friend now, even if you haven't for a long time, than to continue to put it off.
  • Etc.

In all those cases, it's tempting to think, "Well, I haven't for such a long time… it would be weird or awkward if I started now." And I completely understand that temptation. But on the other hand, if you choose to do the right thing, even late in the game, it would mean that you are doing the right thing. And it's better to be doing that late than never doing it.

Like the workers in the parable, it is better for us to commit late to the right thing and still have time to be rewarded for that choice than to put it off forever and lose all of its possible blessings.

- Dan Lankford, minister

Ever-Present Temptation

Sunday, October 06, 2019

If the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil was going to be forbidden for Adam & Even, why did God put it in the middle of their world? Why not confine it to an obscure corner of the Garden where they were unlikely to find it, much less see it every day? If it had so much potential to cause their moral failure, why was it so eminent to their existence?

That tree shows us just how close we are to temptation in every part of our lives. It’s a sobering reminder that it is always possible for each of us to make a choice that will ruin us. And if you take stock of your daily habits and daily life, you have surely noticed that the urge to sin doesn’t ever fully go away. Even as time and faith make one sin’s allure begin to fade, another one begins subtly drawing us in. The tree is always in the middle of the Garden, and its fruit always looks at least a little bit appealing.

But let me be quick to add a preemptive correction that may prove helpful for some: the Bible does not teach that Christians perpetually live a hair’s breadth away from accidentally losing our salvation. In fact, in the Garden, while Adam & Eve were only one fruit away from death, the fact is that they did not eat the fruit by accident. God had told them what was right to do, and they chose to do otherwise. It was their choice to give in to temptation. And it is our choice too.

The tree was in the middle of the Garden, and it’s in the middle of our lives too. The choice between life and death is always before us. But God has told us how to choose life. Are you making the right choice?

- Dan Lankford, minister

Redirecting The Applause of Heaven

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

In a popular book from the 1990’s, one Christian author imagined the scenario as a saint enters Heaven. He said, “You'll see faces that are waiting for you. You'll hear your name spoken by those who love you. And, maybe, just maybe--in the back, behind the crowds--the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his heavenly robe and… applaud.” And isn’t that a nice vision of entering Heaven? That the divine council of spiritual beings, the saints who’ve gone before, and even Jesus will welcome you with applause and congratulations?

However… for people who truly get what the Bible is all about, I don’t think that’s what we should be looking forward to.

It’s true that the apostle Paul said that the Lord would give him a crown on the day he finished the course of this life (2 Tim. 4:8). And Jesus said that the Lord will welcome his servants with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Mt. 25:21-23) However, neither of those really points to the glory of the recipient. Both are about the glory of the giver.

Brother Kelley’s Monday-night lesson on pride helped me remember that even when the twenty-four elders—the apostles and the tribes of Israel—stand before the throne of God in Heaven, “They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God!’” (Rev. 4:10) And for those whose greatest ambition is to love the Lord with all of our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength; our hope is not that the heavenly hosts will applaud us in glory. We know that they will be praising God.

That’s what we look forward to. On the day that God brings you into his glory, don’t expect the praise of heavenly realm to be directed at you. Let’s humbly realize that when we step into the light of glory, all things will praise God. Because it was his power and his grace and his love that got us there.
 
“Let the treasures of the trial form within me as I go. And at the end of this long passage, let me leave them at Your throne.”

- Dan Lankford, minister

Live the Right Message

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Last week, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room and noticed a lady coming toward me wearing a shirt with beautifully scrolled letters that said, "It Is Well With My Soul." She was heading for the empty seat next to me. As she sat down, she dropped her phone and also dropped nasty swear word as she did. And you know... regardless of her reasons for that, the inconsistency of it all just didn't sit well with me.

As a believer, it should never sit well with us when we observe blessing and cursing coming from the same life (Jas. 3:7-12). It doesn't make sense for someone who claims to be living a Christian life to swear and curse others and tell crude jokes, even if those things are supposedly done in secret. We ought not make excuses for the language we use—we ought to make changes to the language we use.

While not every sin of your tongue will be heard by someone else, every sin of the tongue is heard by God. And that ought to motivate us to make sure that our speech is "always gracious, seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6) and that we "speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty." (Jas. 2:12) The gospel that we claim to live ought to be the same gospel that is communicated by our words—that Jesus is the king of our lives and rules over us in every way.

- Dan Lankford, minister

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