Thursday, September 14, 2017

Make your worship experience count

by Barrett Vanlandingham
September 19, 2017

          You may have heard someone say, “I don’t like going to church because I just don’t get anything out of it.”
          Two things:  First, none of us actually goes to church.  We go to worship (sing, pray, give, partake in communion on the first day of the week, study, and fellowship). We ARE the church. Jesus Christ is the head of the body. Christians are the body of Christ, which is the church (Colossians 1:24,1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 3:6, and 5:23).
          For Christians to say they are going to church is worse than a football team or a player saying they are “going to the game”, as if they are thinking of the game as a spectator sport they have no involvement in.
          Second, we must remember that we are the worshipers, and God is the one and only audience member. In Revelation 5:9, we read what heaven will be like as people sing “a new song”. It is important to never become complacent in our worship, and sing with no thought as to the words we are offering to God.
          During Jesus’ ministry, he was having a conversation with a woman in Samaria at “Jacob’s well”. He had just finished explaining to her that those who drink the living water (his teachings) he provides will never thirst again. Then the topic turned to the question of where the appropriate place is to worship God.
          Jesus said, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21). He was leading up to the idea that our relationship with God is not based on a location since God himself is not of this world.
          “…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

          It is important to worship correctly (in truth), but it is also important to worship in spirit with your whole heart, whether with your church family (Hebrews 10:24-27), or as you live out your Christian life. This kind of worship results in blessings too numerous to count.  Have a great week!

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hold on to Jesus in life’s crossroads

by Barrett Vanlandingham
September 12, 2017

          There are times in life when we come to crossroads. These usually involve recent changes brought on by family issues, health, finances, or maybe just the next season of life. Then, we feel stress about how to restructure our life to move forward.
          In King David’s life, he not only experienced many successes and victories, he also went through many hardships and disappointments. Some of them were self-inflicted and some were just a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And though he experienced much emotional pain, he gained great wisdom from the things he went through. He wrote many of his thoughts about life and the things he learned in the book of Psalms.
          “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:9-10).
          David’s words are reassuring even to us today, three-thousand years later!  Unfortunately, when times of trouble come, most of us lose our heads and turn in the wrong direction for answers. Some turn to alcohol or drugs, others to pornography or sex outside of marriage, and still others turn to gambling or overeating (guilty). But the psalmist David says we can find the relief we’re looking for by holding on to the Lord God. There is only one way to get to God.
          Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
          As Jesus was comforting his disciples regarding his departure, he reminded them: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). 
          He told them that even though some of his closest friends would desert him in his final hours, he is not worried because his Father is with him. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
          He wants us to know that if we hold on to him, we will also overcome the world. Have a great week!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spiritual warfare requires follow through

by Barrett Vanlandingham
September 5, 2017

          Occasionally, someone will express to me that they wish they could just be a better person. No one gets a pass on the struggles and trials of life. The apostle Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
          It takes a lot more than just wishing to get the job done. In spiritual warfare and in any other important endeavor, we must not only wish and set goals, but make plans and work on following through with specific things that will make our goals reality.
          Lisa and I became empty nesters this week. We sent-off our youngest of three to Nashville to pursue his plan to work in the music industry. It’s a good thing Britton didn’t take my advice three years ago to sit for two hours on Monday nights to watch NBC’s “The Voice” like I did. Instead, for those years, without fail, he spent those hours and many more per week practicing his skills.
          The reason I said “pursuing his plan” instead of “his dream” is because he really does have a plan he has been working on. Yes, he sings, he plays lead guitar. But he also has written and produced 16 songs in the last 12 months, mostly alternative rock ballads. In just a few days, Britton will begin training with professionals on the ins and outs of audio engineering in the studio environment at Dark Horse Institute.
          The apostle John said this about Jesus, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
          There is a big difference between having “the right” to do something versus “doing” something about it. If we do not follow through with God’s plan to save us, then all we have are wishes, goals, and “rights” with no obedience to His plan of salvation that Jesus died for.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

           Believe in yourself, Britton. You are prepared for this.  Continue working hard, working smart, but most importantly, continue believing in Jesus, and live your life on that foundation. Have a great week!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Connecting with others is a part of God’s plan

by Barrett Vanlandingham
August 29, 2017

          As much joy as can be found in meeting together in large buildings for worship services, there are no New Testament examples of the kinds of church buildings we see today. Believers who lived in the first century met in people’s homes.  The church grew at a rapid pace, by the thousands. They not only grew in knowledge of God’s will for them, they took care of anyone in their church family who had a need (Acts 2:42-47).
          The Bible gives examples of early Christians coming together on the first day of each week (Acts 20:7), praising God, giving to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and partaking of unleavened bread and fruit of the vine in remembrance of Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
          There are examples of Christians coming together to pray, sing, and study God’s word. We also see Jesus being very creative in his teaching methods. He told parables, wrote in the dirt, and did countless miracles to get the attention of his listeners. We see acts of worship taking place at a river, a lake, in prisons, in houses, you get the idea.
          God has always been more concerned with the heart of the worshiper and how we show love for others (John 13:1-17), than where we worship him, or how good we sound when we sing, or how inspirational our public teaching and prayers are (Matthew 15:8-9).
          Even though God does not command a location, God does want us to meet together and encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25) so that we will not fall away from him. God wants us to talk with fellow Christians about our struggles and pray for each other (James 5:16). God wants us to acknowledge his son Jesus Christ in the way we live our lives, and in exchange, Jesus will acknowledge us before his father (Matthew 10:32-33). God wants us to show our love to him by obeying his commands (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24).  

          September 3, Fort Gibson church of Christ is starting up a new small groups ministry that will be called Connect Groups. It could be life-changing, and I invite any of my readers to be a part of it every Sunday night at a house near you. Have a great week! 

Friday, August 18, 2017

It is time to get serious about spreading God’s love

by Barrett Vanlandingham
August 22, 2017
          Even though God created our universe in an orderly way, it seems like there is a lot of confusion human beings have created for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way.
          Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes just to be able to ask God what He really wants from us?  Well, we’re in luck because that issue has already been cleared up.  In Mark 12:28, one of the teachers of the Old Law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”  And in the book of Luke, the question is recorded as “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (ref: Luke 10:25-28). Both questions are asking the same thing, and both point to the same answer.
          “Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
          Those were quotes from the Old Covenant that Jesus wanted to teach a new generation. Then, to make things clearer, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
          When you think about how Jesus proved His love for us (ref: Romans 5:1-11), and His command for us to love others like He loves us, it becomes obvious that on a scale of selfish to selfless, we have a ways to go! But when you consider what we have to gain in this life and the next by loving (and living) in this way, it becomes very clear that selfless love is worth it for us and those we can influence.
          In Romans 12, Paul says that living our lives as a holy sacrifice pleases God. He challenges Christians to live with a sincere love, hating evil, and clinging to good.

          God’s message of love is what our neighbors, our community, and our world needs to hear and see from all who wear Christ’s name.  Have a great week!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Pray for our schools

by Barrett Vanlandingham
August 15, 2017
          I love to hear about people who actually go onto the grounds of their local schools in the off hours, and just pray. This is not only encouraging. But prayer works! So, if you haven’t already done so, please pray for our students, teachers, support staff, and administration.  They need it so much here at the beginning of the school year, and all year long.
1) Pray for safety in every circumstance that involves our students, personnel, and their families. 
2) Pray for good health so that students can learn, teachers can teach, and the school can run smoothly.
3) Pray for the home life of each family represented, that every decision, every action, every thought, and every word spoken will honor God.
4) Pray that non-believers will be able to look at the daily example of Christians, and see the difference Christ can make in a person’s life.
5) Pray that God will soften or break the hearts of those who refuse to honor Him in the way they live their lives.
6) Pray that God will give all student and adult believers the right words, actions, and opportunities to make a difference in the life of someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God, or is struggling in their relationship with God.
7) Pray that every person who goes by the name “Christian” will take their job seriously to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus that He spoke in Matthew 28:19-20, to go and make followers of Christ, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey God’s word.
8) Pray for joy, peace, patience, understanding, and compassion in every classroom, hallway, office, lunchroom, and locations for all extra-curricular activities.
9) Pray for selflessness and a spirit of love to reign supreme, the kind of love that seeks the highest good of others.
10) Pray that our schools will make a practice of including God in all things.

          James wrote that we may not receive the things we pray for because we ask with wrong motives (ref: James 4:3).  Remember: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). May God grant our schools success for all the right reasons.  Have a great week!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Jesus’ understanding of us makes a difference

by Barrett Vanlandingham
August 8, 2017
          In the final part of my three part series on how Jesus leads me to be confident in my spiritual journey, I will be looking at the fact that Jesus has walked in our shoes. The writer of Hebrews 4:15-16 says this:
          “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
          This was welcome news to Jewish Christians in the first century who were beginning to waiver in their new found faith in Christ. The Hebrew writer was trying to encourage and remind them that the New Covenant was superior to the Old Law because of the superior sacrifice of Jesus in comparison to that of bulls and goats, and also that Jesus actually understands what it is like to go through earthly trials.
          It is always nice when the person in charge appears to have great leadership qualities, but your confidence in that leader increases dramatically when you find out they truly understand you.  Jesus no doubt had temptations of pride, after all, he created everything (Colossians 1:15-16, John 1:3), and with each thing he made, his Father said, “It is good.”  Also, I think he was probably tempted to disobey his parents, or at the very least act disrespectfully when they lost him for a few days and then found him in the temple talking with the elders (Luke 2:41-52).  During his 40 days of temptation in the dessert, Jesus was tempted to take advice from someone he knew was evil. Then, there was the week of his crucifixion. You know the devil had to have been there tempting Jesus to not follow through with God’s plan to conquer sin.
          What a relief it is to know that Jesus knows us, understands us, and goes to God the Father on our behalf. “He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

          Have a great week!