Mark Fox May 31, 2020

Worship Is Defined by Heart Attitude

As they carried the ark of the Lord back to where it belonged, with King David leading, the people of Israel stopped every six steps and worshipped. A sacrifice was made of oxen and fatted sheep. David was making sure that God was honored in this procession, and that the hearts of the people were turned towards the Lord. They had tried to bring the ark of the Lord back once before, on a cart rather than on the shoulders of priests, as God had prescribed. It did not go well. This time, David followed God’s instructions and the procession slowly winded toward Jerusalem. The sacrifices were made every six steps, but something else marked the joyful procession as well. David danced. The literal translation in 2 Samuel 6 is that David “twirled around.” It wasn’t a choreographed exhibition that David had worked on in the privacy of his chambers, with an ancestor of Martha Graham or Rudolf Nureyev. No, this was a spontaneous outburst of unabashed joy, expressed through David’s feet and his entire body. Before the Lord. That’s a key phrase in the passage. David danced before the Lord. For an audience of one. His was not a carefully planned scheme to show off his versatility for the Israeli people. “Look at me, I can dance!” He was not auditioning for the Hebrew’s new season of Dancing with the Stars. He was not trying to overcome a boyish fear of the spotlight by doing the most absurdly brash thing he could think of at the time. No. In fact, David was not thinking of David at all. He danced before the Lord. Not only that, David danced before the Lord “with all his might.” He threw away man’s predilection to do just enough to get by. David danced before the Lord with abandon. Why? It was worship. Dancing is so often not worship, but here it was. David worshiped the Lord in the dance, just as Psalm 149 says.

I would make two observations about this story and the encouragement in Psalms. First, I realize that dancing in the worship service is most likely not a part of your tradition. Indeed, it is not what I am used to seeing, at least not in this culture. Go with me to Kenya or Zimbabwe, though, and your understanding of what is “normal” in worship will be challenged. The point is, worship is not defined by particular actions but is defined by the heart attitude. David danced before the Lord with all his might. He could have sung with all his might and that would make many of you feel a little better about this whole episode. But he danced. He could have yodeled, and that would make us even more uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? I cannot picture the Kenyans breaking out into a group yodel at the top of their lungs.

Second, David’s wife, Michal, didn’t think much of his dancing. In fact, the Bible says she looked out a window at David and saw him twirling with abandon, and “she despised him in her heart.” Sadly, there are many Michals in the church today who stand back sneering at those who worship the Lord with more emotion or movement or even joy than they. Like Michal, they miss the celebration of God in worship themselves because of their own judgmental spirit.

The truth is, worship invites warfare. When you worship the living God, you draw a line in the sand and declare your allegiance. That will provoke the believers to exultation and the faithless to condemnation.

Worship on.

Whether you are sitting in a pew in the sanctuary or in a lawn chair in the church parking lot, worship on.

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Mark Fox May 31, 2020
Mark Fox May 24, 2020

This Is the Great Exchange

Leprosy was perhaps the most feared disease in ancient times. The devastation included physical trauma caused by nerve damage and muscle weakness, resulting in severe disfigurement and significant disability. But. Some would say that even more horrible was the social trauma; leprosy came not just with a diagnosis, but with a sentence. Lepers were socially isolated from everyone, including their own families. They had to live alone, “outside the camp,” according to the law of Leviticus 13. Their quarantine was not for fourteen days, but for a lifetime. If anyone came near, they had to cover their mouths and yell, “Unclean, unclean!” The most horrible sentence a person could hear from the priest, who was charged with diagnosing leprosy, was, “You are unclean.” It was a sentence worse than death. In fact, the rabbis referred to lepers as “the living dead,” and they said that it was as hard to cure leprosy as it was to raise the dead. So, you can understand that the most joyful words for anyone to ever hear were, “You are clean.”

This is why one day a leper approached Jesus. Perhaps he had heard that this man from Nazareth was a healer who had authority over sickness and even demons. Perhaps he thought that Jesus would heal his leprosy. The leper got close enough to say to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” In his plea are evidences of faith that the Lord could save him. He does not question the Lord’s ability to make him clean, only his willingness to do so.

Jesus’ response to the leper is shocking and would have been unheard of in those days. Instead of turning from the leper, he turned to him. Instead of making the leper stand far off, at least 50 paces was the requirement, Jesus moved closer. Instead of wearing a mask and gloves and dousing himself in Germ-X, Jesus reached out and touched the leper. Why? The Bible tells us: he was moved with pity. He was moved with compassion for this outcast, this man who lived as a prisoner in his own skin. He touched the man and said, “I am willing; be clean.”

Jesus was not like the rest of the priests. James Edwards writes, “Jesus is not polluted by the leper’s disease; rather, the leper is cleansed and healed by Jesus’ contagious holiness.”

Do you see what is on display in this encounter? Not just a random act of kindness Jesus showed to one man two millennia ago.  No. This is a picture of the Gospel. In this story, the man with unclean skin was touched by the Lord of all and his unclean skin was made brand new. In the most important story of all time, the story of the Gospel, the sinner is touched by Jesus and his unclean heart of flesh is replaced with a new heart; his dead spirit is made alive. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is the great exchange. The prisoner in his own body of flesh is set free by the Lord of all creation and called to a new life of freedom to serve the living Christ.

What does that mean for you and me? It means that as frightening as Covid-19 is, and as devastating as it has been to take lives and put people out of work and threaten the world economy, it is a candle in a hurricane when compared to the eternal consequences of sin. It also means that we have hope in Christ. He is for us.

This virus has a shelf life, and one day, hopefully soon, it will be remembered as “that weird pandemic that shut down the whole world in 2020.” We will not have to wear a mask at Aldi or search the shelves at the crack of dawn for Clorox wipes. Our quarantine will be over.

But we will still need to be made clean. We will still need to come to Jesus Christ with the same plea as the leper: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And, oh my friends, he is. Able. And willing.

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Mark Fox May 24, 2020
Mark Fox May 18, 2020

Outside the Greenhouse

I remember when my oldest son, Micah, was about 2 years old. I walked into a room that he had just finished trashing and said, in alarm, “Micah!” He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and in all innocence said, “Wha’ Micah do?” That was 33 years ago. When he was 19, Micah called me from college to seek my counsel about something. Now he was asking, “What should Micah do?” He was willing to do that from 725 miles away because he developed the habit as a child. He would come to talk to me and his Mom about any problem he was facing. When he was young, Micah went through a period where he would come and confess anything he had done wrong or even thought of doing wrong. I can remember many nights as I was just about to drift off into a peaceful slumber when I would hear that familiar voice at the bedroom door saying, “Mom? Dad? Can I talk to you about something?” Most of the time, what Micah really needed was to know that we loved him, and that we believed he was doing well. Sometimes he needed correction or encouragement to change something in his life. He always wanted and needed me to pray for him, and to ask the Lord to give my firstborn child His peace. In almost every case, he was willing to listen to what his Mom and Dad had to say, because he had learned to love and respect us as his authorities. He had learned the hard way (as most of us have to) that the safest place to be is under the protection that is afforded a child who submits gladly to his parents.

The culmination of these ‘visits in the night’ came when Micah popped his head in one night to say, “Dad, I’m not sure sometimes whether I need to come to you with a question or not, or if I just need to pray about it and see what the Lord tells me….But I guess I do know, actually. Because if I take it to the Lord but it keeps bugging me and I can’t get it out of my mind, then I know I am supposed to come to you as well.” I knew then that he was ready to leave home and face the challenges of life outside the “greenhouse” of family. He was ready to be transplanted in a world that is hostile to most of what he believes and stands for; he was ready to make a difference in the culture. I knew that was true because I had seen Micah transfer his dependence from his earthly father to his heavenly Father.

He had found in Jesus a wonderful counselor who is never too busy, always willing to listen, and always has the right answer. He had learned how to search the Scriptures to find counsel, and he had learned how to seek the Lord through prayer and wait until he gets an answer. He had developed a relationship with Jesus Christ that was all his own, and this young ‘arrow’ was ready to be released.

There is nothing like the protection that our family can provide as we raise little ones to maturity in the ‘greenhouse’ of home life. It is a safe place that nurtures these children like olive plants (Psalm 128:3) as they grow up. But the home is like a huddle for a football team. The huddle is a safe place; nobody ever gets tackled in the huddle. No one is ever injured in the huddle. Neither does any team ever score in the huddle! The purpose of a football huddle is that the players receive instructions so they can go out and make plays that will move the ball forward and score touchdowns and win the game. So it is with our families. God has given us these tender plants to raise and nurture, and the home should be a safe place. But the end result is that the children leave the home, fully equipped and prepared to make a difference in the culture for the Kingdom. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. (Psalm 127:4) Arrows in the quiver may look nice but they don’t do anything. Arrows are made to be released toward a target so that the army can advance. May God give us wisdom and courage as parents to train up sons and daughters who will be ready to hit the target for which they were created.

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Mark Fox May 18, 2020
Mark Fox May 11, 2020

Gone to the Dogs?

The Times-News headline several years ago read, “Gone to the dogs: church starts pet service.”  The AP story was about a pastor in Los Angeles who, wanting to add more bottoms in the pews, decided it did not matter how furry those behinds were. He started a service for dogs, “complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats.” Pastor Eggebeen’s, um, support, for this idea came to him through close examination of the Scriptures. I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Here is the pastor’s logical leap: “The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an ‘is’: That God is light and God is love. And wherever there’s love, there’s God in some fashion. And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that’s a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that.”

I shudder at the influence of such men who are willing to twist for their own purposes what the Bible really says. Many who read this column will have had the same visceral reaction to Eggebeen’s statements that all we know for sure of God is that He is light and love. We also know that He is holy, just, good and glorious. We know that He came to earth in human flesh to “seek and to save that which was lost.” We know that in the person of Jesus Christ, God said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We know that God created all that we see and all that we cannot see and that into man alone He breathed His Spirit.

We also know that humans alone have souls and can therefore be saved from sin. At no time while Jesus was here on earth is it recorded in the Bible that He stopped to bless an animal or heal someone’s pet. He mentioned animals at times in His teaching to show sinful man what it means to trust God. He cares for the ravens, for example, “who neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.” What is the point? Jesus says, “Of how much more value are you than the birds?” Jesus did not come and give His life for dogs, cats, birds or iguanas, but for the one species that is made in God’s image: mankind.

I understand our love for our pets; we have had dogs and cats and I grew up loving the pets I had as a child. But we must not pretend that our ability to love something brings it into the sacred realm or puts it on the same level as human beings. I admit that I laugh when I read a bumper sticker that says, “My Yorkshire Terrier is smarter than your honor student.” But that honor student was made in the image of God and has a soul that will live forever and was created to know and please and worship the Creator. The Yorkshire Terrier, as cute and as intelligent as it may be, was created by God to serve man, to live to please man, but it cannot know God or understand grace and forgiveness.

Pastor Eggebeen, like many others, may have the very best intentions with his pet-centric services of worship. But I would suggest that letting the church go to the dogs is not the answer to his attendance woes. It will simply prolong the inevitable. Where man’s “wisdom” is elevated above God’s Word, that church simply cannot survive.

By the way, one final note: church services for people will resume soon. In fact, come to Antioch Community Church in Elon next Sunday at 10am and bring your lawn chair for an outdoor time of worship and study in the book of Mark!

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Mark Fox May 11, 2020
Mark Fox May 3, 2020

Keepers of the Springs

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my Mother would like for Mother’s Day.” The girl answered, “Well, you could decide to keep your room clean and orderly. You could go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told. You could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” The boy looked at her and said, “Naah, I mean something practical.” 

I like the Mother’s Day card that is written in a child’s hand. On the front is a little boy with untied sneakers. He is about 6 years old, and he has a wagon and toys are everywhere. He has a little cut on his face and there are smudges all over the card. It reads, “Mom, I remember that little prayer you used to say for me every day.” Inside is the prayer: “God help you if you ever do that again!”

Then there was the teenage boy who came bounding into the house only to find his Mom in bed. He was truly concerned and asked if she was sick or something. His Mom answered that, as a matter of fact, she wasn’t feeling very well. The son replied, “Well, don’t worry about dinner. I’ll be happy to carry you down to the stove.”

OK, I know it is tough being a Mom, and maybe humor like that is not exactly what you need. But since we are approaching that “special day” when we make an extra effort to celebrate motherhood, I wanted to start you thinking with a smile on your face!

Mothers are, to use Peter Marshall’s metaphor from a sermon long ago, “the keepers of the springs.” Marshall told the story of a small village that grew up at the foot of the mountain. Up in the hills a forest dweller decided that he would be the “keeper of the springs.” Everywhere he found a spring in the hills, he would remove the filth so the water would be clean, cold and pure, never stagnant. He performed his job with delight, and the city responded with their thanks and a monthly check. The keeper of the springs kept the water flowing, and it became a river of life to the town. Mill wheels turned by its rush and gardens were refreshed by its waters. The city council met to decide its budget one year when income was tight, and they decided the keeper of the springs would have to go. They fired him. The keeper of the springs no longer went to the springs to clean, and soon the filth began to accumulate. As a result, sickness found its way into many homes. Some even died. The city council met again and decided they had made a mistake and invited the keeper of the spring back into his position. And health and life were restored from the waters that flowed pure again. Peter Marshall said that it is the mother who is the modern-day keeper of the spring. Her ministry to the family, he said, keeps it glowing with health.

What does a mother look like? Here is just one example, and there are many, that come from God’s Word and are his ‘refrigerator art,’ if you will, pictures of what God thinks about moms.

In Psalm 128:3, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine, and we are told that she is in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come. Nancy Wilson wrote in her book on motherhood, Praise Her in the Gates, “The mother is central to the picture of blessing and prosperity. Around the table are the olive shoots, an image of promise and growth and future prosperity. This psalm concludes with a blessing: ‘Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!’ A mother who fulfills her fruitful calling is a means God uses to bring blessing for her entire family, her husband, the church, and the community.”

Keeper of the springs. Fruitful vine. Shaper of the next generation. Beautiful wife and faithful co-laborer in the Gospel. Happy Mother’s Day and, thank you!

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Mark Fox May 3, 2020