Mark Fox September 28, 2020

Sheep Desperately Need Shepherds

USA Today carried this story in 2005 from Istanbul, Turkey:

“First one sheep jumped to its death. Then stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 others followed, each leaping off the same cliff, Turkish media reported. In the end, 450 dead animals lay on top of one another in a billowy white pile, the Aksam newspaper said. Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and the fall more cushioned. After one of the sheep tried to jump a ravine, the rest of the flock followed.” 

What is going on here? You have heard the mythical story of lemmings rushing to the sea, all caught up in Groupthink gone horribly wrong. Here we have a similar story, only this time it’s a herd of sheep, all following a leader who is very confused. This rogue sheep made a deadly decision and 1,500 of his closest friends blindly followed him. You could spin this story and say that 450 of the sheep laid down their lives for their comrades. But don’t pull the wool over your eyes. That’s not what happened here. You could say that sheep are naturally sociable and would rather die together than live alone. That, too, would be wrong, and I would be fleecing you to even suggest it. You could say that since these sheep lived in Turkey, perhaps they thought they could fly. That would be a really “baaad” attempt at humor, and it, too, would be off the mark.

No, these sheep were simply acting the way God designed them. Sheep are not the brightest of four-legged creatures. If left unattended, sheep will wander off a cliff, or into a thicket where they are held fast, or stumble over rocks and end up ‘cast’ (on their backs, unable to turn). In any of these scenarios, the sheep that leaves its shepherd is easy prey for a wolf, a hyena, or any number of sheep-eating predators. Besides that, sheep are pest-magnets: they get ticks, lice and worms, and regularly have to be dipped in strong chemicals to keep them healthy. Maybe all of those reasons combined explain why God compares us to sheep in the Bible. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way…” The hymn writer said it this way: Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.

This is why sheep need shepherds, and why pastors and elders, those who shepherd the local church, need to carefully stay under Christ’s authority. Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made your overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” Think about that verse for a moment. Leaders must pay careful attention first to their own lives, and make sure there is no gap between what they say and how they live. They are also to care for the church, which belongs to God, and which He purchased with the blood of His Son. Do you get that? The purchase price for the church is unmatched in the universe. There is nothing more precious than the blood of Jesus. That means the value of the church to God is incalculable. There are not enough zeros to match the price God paid to redeem His people.

Don’t follow sheep off a cliff. Find shepherds who follow the Lord and stay close. But remember that those shepherds in your church are just sheep to whom God has given a precious responsibility. Pray for them. Encourage them. Don’t let your hearts grow bitter towards them. They need you as much as you need them.  

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Mark Fox September 28, 2020
Mark Fox September 21, 2020

God Clearly Answers the Big Questions

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.
Nobody came.
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave.
No one was saved. All the lonely people…

Paul McCartney and John Lennon spoke for a generation searching for truth. Are there answers? How does the Bible speak to the songwriters and philosophers of every age? In his message to the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17) Paul took the four basic questions of the universe and answered them clearly. The questions include: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Who are we? Where are we going?

The first answer is that God is creator and Lord of everything. We are not a random collection of molecules, thrown together by chance. The second answer is God is sustainer of everything in the universe. God does not depend on us; we depend on God. That’s why another songwriter penned these words: “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling…Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

Third, we are made in the image of God. That’s who we are and whose we are.

No matter what our race or color, we each bear God’s image. The truth is, almost every person struggles with racism at one level or another. When we give in to the sin of thinking of ourselves as either racially superior to others not like us, or racially inferior to others not like us, we are denying one of the most basic and glorious truths of Scripture, that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” I recommend on this subject that you find John Piper’s sermon on the internet entitled “Racial Reconciliation.” It is powerful. Let me just offer one of his eight points in this column: “In determining the significance of who you are, being a person in the image of God compares to ethnic distinctives the way the noonday sun compares to a candlestick. In other words, finding your main identity in whiteness or blackness or any other ethnic color or trait is like boasting that you carry a candle to light the cloudless noonday sky. Candles have their place. But not to light the day. So, color and ethnicity have their place, but not as the main glory and wonder of our identity as human beings. The primary glory of who we are is what unites us in our God-like humanity, not what differentiates us in our ethnicity. This is the most fundamental reason why programs of ‘diversity training’ usually backfire in their attempt to foster mutual respect among ethnic groups. They focus major attention on what is comparatively minor, and virtually no attention on what is infinitely, gloriously major—our common, unique standing among all creation as persons created in the image of God.”

The fourth answer is that God is our judge. Read Acts 17 and see that the judgment of God will be universal: “all men, everywhere.” It will be fair: “He will judge the world in righteousness.” It will be unavoidable. “He has fixed a day.”

Where are you going? To meet the King! As the old Gospel song said, “Are you ready to sit by His throne?”

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Mark Fox September 21, 2020
Mark Fox September 13, 2020

Don’t Be a Stalker

In his book, Love Does, Bob Goff writes, “I get paid as a lawyer to collect information and memorize facts, and I’ve gotten really good at it. What I realized about my faith is that I was doing just that, collecting information and memorizing things about God. I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually, we hardly knew each other at all. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out too. So I decided I’d stop. The first thing I did was quit going to what Christians call Bible Study. Sounds wholesome. But at the ones I went to, I (just) learned a bunch of facts and information about Jesus…So, I started getting together with the same guys each weeks for a ‘Bible doing.’ We read what God has to say and then focus all of our attention on what we are going to do about it. Just agreeing isn’t enough. I can’t think of a single time when Jesus asked His friends to just agree with Him.”

I believe Philip must have been a part of a group like that in the first century. When the story opened in Acts 8, he was in Samaria. He’d been preaching Jesus to the Samaritans, with great success. Many had been baptized and there was much joy there. Then God told Philip to leave the city, where many were hearing the Gospel and being saved, and go to a desert place. To the middle of nowhere. On the face of it, it just didn’t make sense. But God’s ways are higher than our ways. God, who cared about the many in Samaria, cared also about the one in the desert.

The command that came to Philip was simple: “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The road that ran south out of Gaza ran all the way into Egypt, and the continent of Africa. It wasn’t Gaza that God was after that day. It was Africa. Starting with one Ethiopian, whom Philip was about to meet. But the command was simple: rise and go.

May I suggest to you that God’s greatest works start with a simple command? Abraham, rise up and go: leave this place and go to the place that I will show you. Moses, rise up and go: tell Pharaoh to let My people go. Peter, rise up and go: feed My sheep. I believe the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ, who is the cornerstone, and the men and women who have responded to God’s simple commands. Where would the church be if Peter had not obeyed? Or if Paul had refused to take the Gospel to the Gentiles? Which brings up an all-important question, especially for the fathers. God has given you a simple command as well. Fathers, rise up and go: disciple your children. To do that properly, you have to make sure that you are a disciple yourself, and that you are not just a stalker, always looking at the church or the Bible or even Jesus Himself from a distance, not daring to get too close.

I love the way the story ends. God gave a simple command. Philip chose a simple response: “… he rose and went.” Philip wasn’t just interested in Bible Study. He was also into Bible doing.

How about you?

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Mark Fox September 13, 2020
Mark Fox September 6, 2020

Jesus is the great I AM

It was an amazing thing. From atop the mountain, Jesus saw his disciples in the boat, struggling against their oars in the fierce wind, getting nowhere on the Sea of Galilee. He left his place of prayer, went down the mountain, stepped onto the sea, and walked on the water to them. Why do we have that expression in our vernacular, “Oh, that guy thinks he walks on water”? Because somebody, namely Jesus, did!

It is also interesting that Mark’s gospel included that Jesus “meant to pass them by.” What? He meant to walk past them on the water and not stop?

We cannot say for certain what is going on here. But we can say for sure that Jesus was not playing games. He didn’t see the 12 disciples struggling, tormented by the wind for hours, hands blistered and bloody, and say to himself, “That’s a shame, and bless their hearts; I hope they make it!” No. This story could not end any other way than the Lord coming to rescue his own and at the same time reveal to them a greater rescue operation that they still would not understand.

Many believe that Mark used the phrase “pass them by” as a fulfillment of what the Old Testament saints could only see in shadow. Remember when Moses told God he wanted to see his glory, and God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and then God “passed by” Moses? Moses could see the back of God but not his face. Then God did the same with Elijah when the prophet was afraid that he was all alone. “The Lord passed by,” and though Elijah could not see God, he could hear his still, small voice. But there is an even clearer foreshadowing of this scene in the book of Job. Job says of God that he “stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” Then he says, “Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.”

Here in Mark’s gospel the God of all creation appeared to be passing by but then stopped to help his disciples. Jesus walked on the water and came to his own, revealing the glory that he alone shares with the Father, extending the compassion that his followers need. James Edwards says Jesus was answering the disciples’ earlier question when they said to each other, “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?” Edwards writes, “The one who calmed the storm is the one who now appears in the storm, the I AM of God.”

When Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee and approached the disciples, they were terrified, thinking he was a ghost. He said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” This “It is I” is the same as God’s self-disclosure to Moses, when Moses was afraid to go to the Pharaoh. “Whom shall I say sent me?” Moses asked. God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” God could have said, “Tell them ‘It is I’ sent you.”

“It is I,” the Lord says to his terrified disciples, and to you and me. Jesus not only walks on the water as Job says, but he takes God’s name. Who is Jesus? He is the great “I Am.” He is Jehovah Adonai, the Lord our Sovereign.  He is Jehovah Elohim, the Lord our Creator. He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord our Provider. He is Jehovah Rophe, the Lord our Healer. He is Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord our Banner. He is Jehovah Shammah, the Lord who is Present. He is Jehovah Rohi, the Lord our Shepherd.

The Son of God, the great I AM, got into the boat, and the wind ceased. Only then. Jesus’ presence overcomes storms in our lives, as well, even when the storms may continue to rage around us. No matter the storm, no matter the virus, no matter the disease, no matter the political upheaval, no matter the suffering, no matter what. Jesus, the great I AM, is with his people. That’s an anchor in any storm.

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Mark Fox September 6, 2020