Quinn Brantley June 17, 2024

Love the Lord Most of All, Fathers!

A man named Steve Huffman wrote a column in our local paper several years ago about some great and not-so-great moments in the history of American fatherhood. Here’s a sampling from his timeline:

1861- Abraham Lincoln becomes president and the following year, his son, Willie, 11, dies. Thereafter, Lincoln takes great comfort in the company of his 8-year-old son, Tad, even after the boy drives a pair of goats through the White House.

1901- Teddy Roosevelt, father of 6, is sworn in as president. Of his outspoken daughter, Alice, he says, “I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

1950 – Harry Truman stands up for his daughter, Margaret, a concert singer, after she is hit with a scathing review in The Washington Post. “I have never met you,” Truman writes the reviewer, “but if I do, you’ll need a new nose…”

1974 – Harry Chapin releases “Cat’s in the Cradle,” a song about a dad who doesn’t spend enough time with his son who in turn grows up and doesn’t spend enough time with his dad. Across the country, men of all ages experience the ultimate guilt trip.

I love those stories, and I know it is tough being a good father. A Father’s Day card says, “Dad, everything I ever learned I learned from you, except one thing. The family car really will do 110.”

Fatherhood doesn’t look any easier when you look at the examples of fathers in the Scriptures. 

Jacob played favorites and ended up causing a family war, where11 of the brothers sold their brother Joseph into slavery. Jephthah made a foolish vow to God, promising that the first thing to come out of his doors when he arrived home from war he would sacrifice as a burnt offering…his only child, a daughter.

David, the man after God’s own heart, provoked his son Absalom to wrath, because David refused to see him or speak to him for 2 years. It ended in civil war and the death of Absalom. And one of the saddest moments for fatherhood was when Eli, a high priest and a judge of Israel, was judged by God and the nation of Israel was also judged, losing the ark of the covenant to the Philistines. Why were he and Israel judged?  God said to Eli, through young Samuel, “And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” 

Fatherhood is not for wimps. And I know sometimes we fathers feel like we are being beat up on from all sides. We know men and fathers are reviled in the media. Sometimes men even feel like they’re not safe at church. One little boy said to the preacher, “Boy that was a good sermon. My dad slumped way down today!” 

The Bible has much to say about being a father and one of the best places to start is Deuteronomy 6. There, God tells fathers what is most important, and how to live that out before our children: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

There is one God in three persons and he alone is God. We stand on that creed and proclaim it, no matter the cost. Martin Luther, on trial for his faith said, Here I stand, I can do no other. Joshua said, Choose this day whom you will serve… Peter, on trial for his faith, said, We must obey God rather than men… Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, on trial for their lives, said, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. 

Antioch hosted some people from Voice of the Martyrs years ago, and one of them told the story and showed the picture of a 10 year old boy, living in Sudan, who was captured by militant Muslims, forced to build a fire, and then was ordered to pray to Allah or be thrown into the fire. “It is impossible,” he replied. “I am a Christian and belong to Jesus.” So they threw him into the fire. He was badly burned but survived. 

We in America sometimes run from the least amount of pushback from scoffers, not to mention violent persecution.  God asked Jeremiah this question:  If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, then how will you compete with horses?” 

Let’s stand, fathers, and love God with all that we have. Our children need that kind of father.

 

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Quinn Brantley June 17, 2024
Mark Fox June 16, 2024

Welcome home

Last week I wrote about 5 roadblocks to grace, according to Jerry Bridges in his book, Transforming Grace. Here is one more of the 10 he wrote about. You don’t understand grace if you…

Think you can do something to make God love you more or love you less. We have all heard it: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than he does. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you any less than he does. We hear it. But we don’t believe it. So we keep trying harder to get it all right and to be perfect. But that’s looking in the wrong place. Arthur Pink wrote years ago, “The great mistake made by most of the Lord’s people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.” Sam Storm wrote, “Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit…Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit…(Grace) is treating a person…solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.” As the hymn writer said, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

That’s what was happening in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. Philip Yancey wrote a modern version in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, that starts like this: A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.  Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside.  “I hate you,” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away. She ends up in Detroit, on the street, on drugs and selling herself to support her habit. Months go by and she sees her picture on a flier one day with “Have you seen this child?” written under it. That scares her but she laughs it off because she doesn’t look anything like that picture, and she is certainly not a child any more. Her life takes a turn when she gets sick, a cough that won’t go away and her skin starts to yellow. She is all alone and afraid and suddenly all she can think of is home in Traverse City. 

The girl makes three phone calls home and each goes to voicemail. On the third call, she leaves a message: Dad, Mom, it’s me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.” On the seven hour bus ride she practices what she will say, telling her dad that she’s sorry and it was all her fault, not his…her throat tightens; she hasn’t apologized to anyone in years. The bus arrives in Traverse City and the driver says, “Fifteen minutes, folks, then the bus will pull out.” She straightens her skirt, runs a brush through her hair, looks at her nicotine stained fingers and wonders if they will say something about them, and then she shuffles into the terminal…

There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and even her grandmother.  And taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a banner that reads, “Welcome Home!” Out of the crowd of cheers and well-wishers walks her Dad.  She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know….” He interrupts her.  “Shhh, honey.  We’ve got no time for that.  No time for apologies.  You’ll be late for the party.  A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

One day several years ago, as I was driving down the road and thinking about the grace of God while talking through some verses in Titus and watching for deer, I was suddenly filled with an almost overwhelming sense of God’s presence with me and his assurance to me that I am his. And that he loves me. And likes me. And that he is pleased with me, that by his grace I am what I am. 

He thinks the very same thing about you, each of you who have been welcomed home from the far country into an eternal relationship with Christ.

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Mark Fox June 16, 2024
Mark Fox June 3, 2024

Grace the size of the ocean

In his book, Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges says there are some telltale signs that show we don’t really understand grace. Here are the first five roadblocks in Bridges’ book to walking in the power of God’s grace as a believer. He says you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Live with a vague sense of his disapproval. That means you live with a performance-based acceptance mindset. Instead, with the understanding that God is for you, you can live with acceptance-based performance. You do what pleases the Lord because you love him and you know he accepts and loves you perfectly. Tim Keller wrote in his book, Forgive, “We are so united in Christ in the Father’s eyes that when he sees us, he sees Jesus. Christians are so one with Christ that we are as forgiven as if we had already died for our sins, as if we had already been raised. We are so one with Christ that when the Father sees us, he treats us as if we deserve all the glory and honor that Jesus deserves. Over 160 times in the New Testament, Paul speaks of being ‘in Christ’ or ‘in him.’ He calls himself a ‘man in Christ’ in 2 Corinthians 12. It utterly dominated Paul’s self-understanding and it must dominate ours.”

Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Hesitate to bring your needs to him when you’ve just failed him. The Bible says in Isaiah says that God has cast all our sins behind his back. So all of our failures, past, present and future, are out of sight, covered by God’s grace. Why would we wait to come to God when we fail again? Do we want our children to ever be afraid to come to us? Of course not. How much more our heavenly Father welcomes us with open arms. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Think that grace is something that makes up the difference between the best you can do and what you think God expects from you. That would be like two of us trying to jump across the Grand Canyon, which averages nine miles apart. I might jump 15 feet after a full sprint. You come along and blow me away with a 30-foot jump. We both end up in the bottom of the canyon. God is not a taskmaster, but a loving father. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Feel you deserve an answer to prayer because of your hard work and sacrifice. That reminds me of the Pharisee who prayed thus with himself: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” He went down to his house unjustified, not like the tax collector who threw himself on God’s grace and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” To the degree that we or our children trust in our own self-righteousness, putting any confidence in our own good works or achievements, to that same degree we are not living by the grace of God. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Assume that forgiveness no longer applies to you now that you’ve sinned so many times you’ve used up all your credit. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is not a Coke machine who one day runs out of product. He’s not a bank that runs out of money. Paul said, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

If God’s grace is the Pacific Ocean, too much of our life is spent happily paddling around in a plastic kiddie pool. What we know of God’s grace is so limited, and always will be. I think that’s part of what eternity is for. Exploring the depths of God’s grace. Exploring the depths of God!

Why wait? We can start now swimming in the ocean of God’s grace.

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Mark Fox June 3, 2024