Mark Fox October 25, 2020

Those Who Understand Their Purpose Seldom Leave Their Posts

The first time I visited Kenya and went with our mission team to Masai Mara in the southern part of the country, I was enthralled. The Masai village we visited consisted of 10 huts, each built with sticks, mud and cattle dung. They are arranged in a tight circle, and the only entrance into the village is through a gate, which is closed and guarded at night. As we walked in and were welcomed by the Masai warriors (dressed in traditional red, many carrying clubs, one wearing a lion’s mane as a headdress), we had to be careful not to step on cattle dung. The Masai gave us their traditional welcome dance, forming a circle and taking turns leaping as high as they could as the others chanted a greeting to the ‘musungu’ visitors. After the welcome, they gave us a tour and explained the life of the Masai.

Let me say to any women who are reading that you can thank God every day you were not born Masai. The first thing a Masai woman must do after she gets married is build the house where she and her husband will live. Then her day consists of tending the children, fetching the firewood, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, and making repairs on it when necessary. You’re thinking the same thing I am, aren’t you? What does the man do?

I asked a Masai warrior that question, and he looked at me like I was from another planet. Then he said, very seriously, “We protect the village.” He had a point. This was lion country, and lions love Masai cattle. That’s the other thing Masai men do; they take care of the hundreds of cattle that each village owns. There’s one more thing the Masai men take very seriously: they   train young Masai boys to become men.

As we drove through Masai territory I saw little boys, no older than 4 or 5, herding chickens around with a stick. I saw older boys, maybe 9 years old, taking care of a herd of goats. The young teenage boys were taking care of a small herd of cattle. Almost as soon as a little Masai boy is weaned, he is sent to work with Daddy. He learns the skills of his father, learns to hunt and kill predators, learns to protect the village, learns to be a man. A 10 year old Masai boy can throw a club with great accuracy from 30 feet and hit a lion or hyena that has crept into the area. I was told that when a lion sees a Masai walking across the savannah, carrying his spear and his club, the lion turns and goes the other way.

 So when I asked how many of the young men grow up and leave the Masai culture and move into the cities, the man I asked looked at me like I had just asked how cows feed their young, like what I said was “udderly” ridiculous. He replied with a scowl, “Almost none leave.” “Why not?” I persisted. He said firmly, “Because they know they are Masai.”

I believe it is universally true: those who understand their purpose and their calling will not abandon their posts. We fathers who follow Christ are given a clear purpose when it comes to our own children. “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Are we standing firm, manning our positions, doing the great work of fatherhood?

May God help us be faithful.

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Mark Fox October 25, 2020
Mark Fox October 18, 2020

Go Ahead and Move to Humility

I remember those early Saturday mornings in the summertime when the kids were little and we were all loaded up in the car and headed to Holden for a week of vacation. You couldn’t do much more to increase my joy at that moment. But if the kids wanted to just send me over the top in ecstatic utterances of praise, all they had to do was get along with each other on the trip. They would have the same mind, to paraphrase Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the same love, and be in one accord. Even though we were really in one Odyssey. Paul is pointing to a place we all should move to as soon as possible. Humility. It’s not a geographical location but a way of life. What does that look like in our relationships?

It means that we have the same love. Let’s face it, some Christians are like porcupines; they have a lot of good points but they’re hard to get close to. Notice that Paul surrounds having the same love with two phrases about being of the same mind. Every fight between church members starts in the mind. A church split in Dallas started when one of the church elders was served a smaller slice of ham than the child sitting next to him. I’m not making this up. Instead of keeping his big mouth shut, stuffing it with a big slab of apple pie, the church elder expressed his displeasure, and the pork problem led to a church-wide divorce. The whole thing started in his mind, and revealed a lack of love for his fellow church members.

Humility means also that we do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. John Wooden, famed UCLA basketball coach said, “Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.” Paul had just written to the Philippians about the preachers who were proclaiming Christ out of selfish ambition. But Paul didn’t gloat and exalt himself above them. He praised God that Christ was being preached. How could Paul be so lacking in selfish ambition and conceit? Here’s how, and he concludes the verse with it: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This command pierces our hearts, doesn’t it? This runs so counter to everything in our culture, where self-promotion seems to be the key to success, and ambition and conceit the normal fare. Instead, let’s pull up stakes and move our heart and our life to Humility. John Stott wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”

Finally, humility means that you “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If our whole life is a series of selfies, interrupted by the occasional detour into serving people at a food pantry or sending a check to a missionary, then we have missed the point, haven’t we? I was in Wal-Mart with my wife a few years ago, and my goal in that store (and any other store) is simple: get in, get it, get out. I had that look on my face, I guess, and Cindy said, “You know, if you look around at the people, it changes your perspective. I see people in here who are hurting, and it causes me to pray for them as we pass by.” Ouch. Suddenly my goals for shopping at Wal-Mart changed, as I moved my heart to Humility for the rest of that trip.

Go to the beach or the mountains, sure! But by all means, move to Humility. Life is better there.

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Mark Fox October 18, 2020
Mark Fox October 11, 2020

These Are Days We Will Never Forget

Some memories are permanently etched on our minds. Others fade with time. Everyone who is at least 23 years old or so remembers where he was on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, that day when jetliners were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by terrorists. I was at college coffee at Elon, just after my 8:00 class, and oblivious to what had been taking place minutes earlier. Another professor mentioned the horror of it, and I asked her what she was talking about. Then I walked/ran back to the Communications building and watched with a group of thirty or so as the story unfolded before us on the plasma screen. A few students were weeping, and when I found out they had relatives who worked in New York, several of us talked                                                                                                                            and prayed with them, to give comfort and to “weep with                                                                                                                                those who weep.”

I asked my college students a few years ago how old they were when the terrorist attack happened, and most of them said they were in the first grade. I smiled and said, “When I was in the first grade, in Mrs. Miller’s class, our principal came over the intercom and let everyone in the school know that President John F. Kennedy, had just been shot in Dallas.” There was silence in the classroom for a second, and then one of the students said, “See? Bad things happen to us when we are in the first grade.” Well, that lightened the mood for a moment, but the thought lingered long after the laughter: there are days in all of our lives that shape us. Some are collective memories, as the day the terrorists attacked, or the assassin struck, or the space shuttle exploded. Others are personal memories.

I will never forget the day a camp counselor threw me off a dock. We were all swimming in the lake. Well, this little eight-year old wasn’t, because I had not yet learned to swim. The counselor thought I was just being timid, so he decided to help me along with his form of shock therapy. He picked me up and said, “Let’s go, Fox,” and threw me into the murky water. When I fought my way to the surface and spluttered, “I can’t swim!” the counselor had a totally different revelation about his technique. But I became a swimmer that day.

I will never forget getting the phone call at college that my grandfather had died. He wasn’t just my mother’s father. He was one of my best friends. As a teenager I liked nothing better than sitting under a dogwood tree in his front yard, talking about life, hearing his stories, and enjoying the love that we shared for each other. I became acquainted with grief that day.

I will never forget the day I met Cindy for the first time. We were both students at UNC, and though we lived in the same apartment complex, we had never met. Until a warm day in May of 1981. When a new friend took me to meet the four girls, I saw the others but not really. There was just Cindy, and though it was in the light of day, I could have burst into the Flamingo’s tune and crooned, “Are the stars out tonight? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright, ‘cause I only have eyes…for you.” It’s good that I didn’t. That may have forever marred the memory for both of us. As it is, I found my lifelong companion that day.

There are days that we will never forget, days that will shape who we are forever. We are living in one of those days now, when the world is gripped by a virus and everything has changed. It sometimes feels like life will never be “normal” again, but as Patsy Clairmont used to say, “Normal is just a setting on the dryer.” It’s true. The only normal we know in our human existence this side of heaven is this: things and people change.

That is why we hold onto to the One who never changes, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Psalmist wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.”

Through it all, there is God who loves us. There is nothing more important to never forget than that.

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Mark Fox October 11, 2020
Mark Fox October 5, 2020

When a Lame Beggar Ran in Church

When I wrote that title it took me back to a pastors’ conference I attended years ago. Pastors are an insecure bunch. I met one at this conference who, I promise, two seconds after he found out my name and where our church is located, looked at me and said, “So, how many you runnin’ in Sunday School?” I refused to play the one-upmanship game with him, so I said, “Oh, we really discourage running in Sunday School. Someone could get hurt!” He looked at me weird for a second and then chuckled. “Ha, that’s pretty funny.” Beat. Then, “So…how many you runnin’ in Sunday School?” I told him we didn’t have Sunday School and he really thought I was weird, then! Back to the real point of this column…

The man had never walked before, and he was over forty years old. We don’t know anything about the pain of his childhood that surely brought scars as he watched other children run and play while he sat and watched and wondered what it would be like. We don’t know anything about his young adulthood, when he had to watch the merchants and farmers and carpenters and fisherman hurry past him on good strong legs, rushing off to work that he knew nothing about. As was the Jewish custom, this man was forced to beg in order to survive. Every day he was carried to the gate of the temple where he asked devoted passersby for help. He was set down in front of the “Beautiful Gate,” the affectionate name of the eastern entrance to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, so named because it was covered with Corinthian brass. The rising sun shimmered on this magnificent edifice that stood seventy-five feet high and required twenty men to open. It was beautiful. And it was powerful. The contrast could not have been more striking, the beautiful gate and the broken man.

We read in the third chapter of Acts that Peter and John went up to pray in the temple, as was their custom, and they passed by the lame man being carried to his normal spot. The man did not even look at the two apostles, but repeated the words he had spoken thousands of times. Something about this story intrigues me. We know that Peter and John went to pray daily in the temple, and went through this particular gate often. They had surely seen this man before, many times. But this was the day that they really saw him. This was the day that God chose to give Peter faith to ask for this man’s healing. 

The apostle gave the man two commands. First, Peter said, “Look at us.” The man looked up, not expecting a miracle, but hoping for money. Second, Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” How do I know Peter was given faith to ask for healing? Well, when was the last time you walked up to someone desperately ill and not able to get up and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk?”  I am guessing never. But if you have said that to someone, you were either outside your mind, or you were given the gift of faith by God at that moment because He had a miracle in mind. The proof would be in the pudding, or in the healing. That is what we see happen in this account.

Peter reached out his right hand and raised the man up, and an amazing miracle took place. There was no rehab needed for ankles and calves and hamstrings and quads that had never worked. Think of it.  How many of you have children who just jumped up one day and started running, having never scooted, crawled, pulled up or walked? One minute your 5-month-old is lying on the floor, and the next he is chasing the dog out the door. Anybody? No, it takes months for a child to learn to walk. Not this man. Jesus healed him instantly and thoroughly. And for the first time, he got to enter the temple, where he was seen “walking and leaping and praising God.”

You want to know more about how God did it, and what happened next? Read Acts 3 and find out the rest of the story.

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Mark Fox October 5, 2020