Mark Fox February 18, 2019

Is That All You’ve Got?

My favorite place at the Myrtle Beach marathon several years ago was the pre-race expo, and especially the bumper stickers that were for sale. One said, “If you find me on the road, please drag me across the finish line.” Or, “If you can read this, I’m not in last place!” Or, “This IS my race pace.” The next morning, I saw people holding some of the same signs, and many others. Some were signs of encouragement for the 6,000 runners who passed by. Some people were just trying to be funny, and they were. Like the guy just a half a mile into the race whose sign read, “One. Lousy. Parade.” Then there was the lady holding up a sign about 10 miles in that said, “My husband knows a shortcut.” Or the one that said, “The Kenyans finished an hour ago.” Some were meant to be funny, but just were not. When I was in the most pain of the race, around mile 24, I passed a guy standing on the side of the road whose sign read, “Is that all you’ve got?” The most encouraging sign I read said, “I am exactly .3 miles from the finish line.” That was a sight for sore legs. The only sign that was better than that was the one I ran under that said, “Finish.”

Paul holds up a sign in his first letter for Timothy, who was a sometimes fragile, sometimes discouraged young pastor, that says, “But you, O man of God.” Man of God! “Timothy,” Paul seems to say, “Remember who you are. You are a man of God.” I wish we could know somehow what effect that had on Timothy. Did he break into a huge grin when he read that? Or did he break down and weep in relief and thanksgiving?

More importantly, would the testimony of God and his word be the same for you? What is your identity? Are you a man or woman of God? Would you be able to say with confidence that you are one of his “peculiar people,” as Peter refers to believers? If you are born again, having been purchased by the peculiar and unique manner of the blood of the Savior on a cross, you are a man of God or a woman of God, no matter your age. You have been made to “stand” because of what Jesus Christ did, not because of anything you have done or ever will do. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

How are we able to stand? By grace. How do we get grace? Through faith. But where does faith come from? Through our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the result of this grace applied to our lives? We have peace with God. How? We have been justified (declared just and righteous, because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us). What can we do as a result? Rejoice in hope of the glory of God!

This is why Christians around the world celebrate the risen Savior every day. Jesus Christ hung on a cross for six hours one Friday, was dead and buried from 3 p.m. Friday until sometime before dawn on Sunday, and then he rose from the dead. He appeared to Peter, to the other disciples, and to more than five hundred at once.

Do you know Him? If you do, then you know what many in the world can only dream about. You know who you are. If that is “all you’ve got,” as the sign declared to my weary soul on a Myrtle Beach street, then that is plenty. It means that you are standing with the One who conquered sin, death, and the grave. There’s no better finish line in all the world.

Read More
Mark Fox February 18, 2019
Mark Fox February 11, 2019

Attitudes to Avoid, Actions to Adopt

“Religion begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” Kent Hughes explains Cotton Mather’s quote by saying that when a person comes to Christ by faith and is born again, his life is turned upside down. Old bad habits are replaced with new good habits of faith and love and hard work and gratitude. He becomes a better worker and manager of resources as he lives out the Scriptures, which results, often, in economic prosperity. The tragedy is, in many cases, “new prosperity and material wealth devour the same Christianity that gave them birth — especially in the second and third generations.”

This is why Paul in Scripture gives a stern warning to all who are “rich in this present age.” By the way, if you are tempted to stop reading because you don’t think you are rich, consider this. The average household income in Alamance County is around $43,000 per year. That income is in the top 1.72% worldwide, which means we are richer than more than 98 percent of the world. What should we do about it? According to Paul there are attitudes to avoid and actions to adopt.

Avoid being arrogant. It just goes with the territory that those who have look down on those who don’t have. If you live in a house, you look down on those who live in a trailer. If you live in a trailer on your own land, you look down on those who live in an apartment! And so it goes. But we are commanded in Scripture to put away arrogance and a haughty spirit. After all, “what do we have that we did not receive?”

Avoid trusting in uncertain riches. The more we have, the more we have to fight against finding our security, and even our sense of self-worth, in our possessions. This deadly downward spiral never ends well and can only be corrected through repentance and acknowledging God as the owner of everything, including the very breath in our lungs. He alone is worthy of our trust.

The actions to adopt begin with this simple command: “do good, be rich in good works.” I knew a dear lady who is with the Lord now, but she used her income and her nice home to show hospitality to people she knew who did not know Christ. She would invite several couples over for dinner and a conversation about things of faith. I know a couple here in town who own several properties that they invite people going through difficult trials to live in for a while, as they teach them to manage their money and their lives in a way that is healthy and productive. You know people like that as well. Are you one of those people who lives on less so that you can help others who have legitimate needs?

Paul then says to us we should be “ready to give, willing to share.” It is sad that though Americans have the largest incomes in the world, we also saddle ourselves with the most debt. As Dave Ramsey says with a smile, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like!” Why not put yourself in a position where you are ready to give by getting out of debt as quickly as possible, while at the same time beginning to give to the work of your church, to global missions, and to local needs?

Don’t get devoured by your own prosperity. I believe that those who learn to give will one day be met in heaven by the beneficiaries of their giving. That is worth the sacrifice.

Read More
Mark Fox February 11, 2019
Mark Fox February 4, 2019

Humility Changes Everything

A man that looked like he could play defensive end for the Panthers approached me after a meeting two weeks ago in Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. One of the things I had taught that evening (with my son, Caleb) was how important it is for a man to pray with and for his wife, out loud, often. Even daily. We talked about the privilege and the responsibility a husband has to love his wife, and that includes praying for her. I told a story of how God had humbled me years ago, when Cindy was going through a trial. I knew that it was not enough for me just to pray “in my head” or in private, for her. She needed to actually hear me praying for her more often. She needed me, and God wanted me, to speak Scripture over her as I cried out to God for her. It was humbling and at the same time, it was one of the best days of our marriage when I decided to obey the Lord in this.

I told the men that night that I know most Christian husbands do not pray out loud for their wives. Some are afraid they might say the wrong thing. Some are embarrassed to be that vulnerable. Some are too busy. Some just refuse to do it. We reasoned with the men from Scripture about the position we have in the marriage. If we are to be like Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is always interceding for his bride, the church, shouldn’t we enter into this ministry as well?

This man looked down at me and said, “How can I humble myself? I am too proud to pray for my wife out loud.” He was asking how to humble himself while he was in fact humbling himself! I saw in this man two ways that we walk out humility. First, when we voluntarily confess sin, we are humbling ourselves. It is one thing to “be humbled” when your sin is exposed by someone else. It is quite another to own it, confess it, and turn away from it. Second, when we ask for help, we are humbling ourselves. The man said, “Help me.” He was a man who had heard truth from God’s Word that had produced personal knowledge of the Lord that he had not had before. He was broken over his disobedience and he wanted to do the right thing. Now, true humility was proved out that night if he went home and humbled himself before his wife by asking if he could pray with and for her. Only the Lord and that couple know whether that happened. I believe it did, and that their marriage is stronger now than before.

Contrast that example with another listener who approached me after a seminar in the city of Orhei. This woman, a mother and a grandmother, told me through our translator, that she vehemently disagreed with me about training and disciplining children. I reasoned with her from Scripture for several minutes, and got nowhere. Another man who was standing there observing all of this said to me, “There’s no way she will listen to you. She doesn’t listen to anybody.” That would be indictment enough. But after I was pulled away to talk to someone else, this woman continued to bend the ear of the translator. He also pointed her to the Bible. She finally said, as she turned and walked away, “I don’t care what the Bible says.”

It is the same in Moldova as in America as in every place on earth. Those who humble themselves before the truth of God’s Word come to a greater place of joy and freedom than they have ever known. Those who walk away from the truth continue stumbling through the darkness.

Humility changes everything.

Read More
Mark Fox February 4, 2019
Mark Fox January 28, 2019

Looking For a Less Busy Heart

Let’s say you are looking at the checkbook and there is more month left than money. Been there? You have two weeks to go until your next paycheck, no money, and three bills that have to be paid. What do you do? If you are like most, you start to panic. You immediately go from “heart at rest” to heart palpitations. You start to panic. Then you complain to yourself. “Why is this happening? What am I going to do?” That doesn’t satisfy you at all, so you take the typical next step: you complain to someone else. You get on the phone and ask someone to commiserate with you. Let’s be honest. What you are really doing is asking your friend to enter into unrest with you. Let’s shuck it down even further. You are asking your friend (whom you love?) to enter into unbelief with you.

Everybody who has been there, say “Amen.” In fact, if you have been in this place, stuck between a rock and a hard place without a pickaxe, that’s good. Recognize that God puts us there to teach us that He alone is sufficient to meet our needs. That doesn’t mean we can throw money away or live the life of a king on a pauper’s salary. That’s just foolishness that brings its own punishment. But let’s say you are living within your means and the unexpected happens. Suddenly your means are not enough. As the saying goes, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” This is a great place to trust the Lord.

That’s what the psalmist decided to do as he spoke this word to himself: “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!” What a wonderful verse to memorize, to speak to yourself during difficult days, and most of all, to believe. Instead of the panicked phone call to a friend, speak to your soul and to God. Charles Spurgeon said, “Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience, but in the Lord alone. When the believer prays, and the Lord inclines His ear, the road to the old rest is before him; let him not be slow to follow it.”

Has the Lord dealt bountifully with you? Oh, yes. No matter your circumstances at the moment, the fact that there is breath in your lungs is a gift from God. The fact that you can see to read this column is a gift from God. And if God has brought you to knowledge of the faith and you have trusted Christ alone for your salvation, you are indeed blessed. We can all pray without hypocrisy, “Lord, let my soul return to its rest,” no matter the trouble we may be facing.

One final point. Don’t confuse this request with a desire for life to be easy, or stress-free. Let me ask you something. Was Jesus busy? Oh, yes, from before sunup to after sundown, the Lord was working. Was Jesus’ soul always at rest? Oh, yes. In his book, “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller writes, “The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed focus on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.”

Yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

Read More
Mark Fox January 28, 2019
Mark Fox January 21, 2019

This will be on the Final Exam

I heard a former NFL coach say that the most important thing about the scouting combine was that it gave the scouts and coaches an opportunity to look the players in the eye and see what kind of character they have. “Their speed in the 40 is highly overrated,” he said. “What is most important is the interview.” The most important consideration for coaches looking to draft a young player to their team is their character? Maybe that’s because there is so little of it.

It is the same in the job market. When two equally skilled people compete for the same job, the person who gives the best interview usually lands it. One professional said there are five red flags for him in an interview, any one of which is a deal-breaker. Even if the candidate is imminently qualified, he won’t get the job if: 1) He talks too much; 2) She doesn’t have a basic understanding of the company; 3) He is not wearing a suit; 4) She begs for the job; 5) He doesn’t know how to communicate why he would be a good fit for the company. I would suggest that each of those ‘flags’ indicate character problems of selfishness, laziness, carelessness, insecurity, and laziness (again)!

In the NFL combine or the professional interview, the question is, does the man or woman reflect the resume? The employer is trying to get a look at the heart, the character, the real deal. God does the same.

David asked God in Psalm 15, “Lord, who may abide with You? Who is able to stand in Your presence?” He was not asking God how to be saved from his sins. That only comes by grace through faith, which cannot be earned by any man or woman. Christ paid for it on the cross. David was asking how he could know that he belonged to God. “Lord, what is the character of a life that You approve? How can I live in such a way to enjoy the fullness of Your fellowship?”

I have a warning for any of you dear readers who might entertain these thoughts: “I don’t care about the ‘fullness of His fellowship.’ I just want to make sure I am in. That when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there. I want to live my life on my own terms, but I also want to go to heaven when I die.” If that is the attitude of your heart, it calls into question whether you have ever known true repentance. When the Spirit of God comes in, He doesn’t just take up space, He takes over. There is a change in a man’s thought patterns, actions, desires, motives, goals, and affections when he has been born again. Many think they have invited the Lord into their lives but in essence have said to Him, “Stay in this closet in the basement, please, so as not to get in the way with how I want to live my life; when I need You, I will come and get You.” No, regeneration results in “extreme makeover,” and there are dire consequences for all who would pretend. As Charles Spurgeon said, “To own Him in our profession (what we say) and deny Him in our practice (how we live) is, with Judas, to betray Him with a kiss.”

Read Psalm 15 and see how your walk, your talk, your values, and how you handle money will stand as evidence of life-change. And yes, Virginia, there is a final exam. All who truly know God will pass.

Read More
Mark Fox January 21, 2019
Mark Fox January 7, 2019

How Not to Be Hard-Headed

Allow me, dear reader, to offer two lessons I learned from my reading or hearing the Word last year.

We were studying Luke in our Wednesday night home group, and it was Josh Howard’s turn to teach. He made the point that Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, was at the cross with Jesus. Then she was at the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint his body, but instead she saw the risen Jesus. Josh told us, “Jesus healed a lot of people. But Mary was there at the end for the Lord.” The thought occurred to me, “If every person who had been healed or delivered of demons or saved by Jesus had come to the cross, there would not have been room for them.” And then I thought, “Why weren’t they there?” Well, the same reason why I am often not ‘there’ for Jesus when he is being persecuted today. I am afraid to speak up, or ashamed to acknowledge, sometimes, that yes, I do believe Jesus is the Son of God. And that I do believe he is our hope for salvation, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Paul may have struggled with this sometimes; I’m not sure. But I know he asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Have you ever put that on your prayer list? Let’s agree to pray that for one another this year.

I was reading in Isaiah and saw where God called his people obstinate. He actually said they had iron necks and brass foreheads. Does anybody besides me resemble that remark? I have a hard head and a stiff neck. A hard head is marked by stubbornness, thinking you’re always right, with a very slow trigger on asking for any help thrown in to boot. A stiff neck keeps your hard head right where it is, so you won’t turn your face to the Lord, and to your brothers and sisters. As I pondered that, I wrote down two things I think we can all do to be less hard headed.

The first thing is to learn, and really receive, the truth that God loves you with a perfect love. That means he also likes you, and his love and his like is not dependent on you or on your family ’getting it all right.” You say, “I thought people who are hard headed are that way because they are proud of how much God loves them, even thinking God loves them a little bit more than the next guy.” I don’t think so. I think the hardest heads belong to those who do not receive his love or fully embrace his grace. They still think they can earn it through hard work and by keeping their lists of doing all the right things. The truth is, understanding God loves us and likes us frees us to love him more. It also frees us to love our wife or husband more, and to love our children more, regardless of whether they get it all right. The hard-headed way of thinking, “I have to get it all right” is legalism. Legalism will lead to either one of two things. It will produce bound-up, fearful people who simply walk in lockstep to what they believe will make God or others around them happy. Or, it will produce rebels, who eventually throw off all restraints and run headlong into sin. God. Loves. You. Period. Believe it, receive it, and then practice that kind of love with everybody you know.

Here’s the second thing. Once the thinking is right, start the practice of admitting when you are not in the right place or the right mind. Not just to yourself and to God. But practice admitting that to a trusted brother or sister in the Lord. Not one of us can do this Christian walk by ourselves. Admitting we need the church is an act of humility, and that takes care of a hard head in short order.

I hope this will encourage you on your journey through the new year.

Read More
Mark Fox January 7, 2019
Mark Fox December 31, 2018

Some Thoughts at the Threshold

We are standing just outside the door into 2019. Here are some thoughts that are bouncing around in my head as we enter a new year.

Since when do we need to “make the Bible relevant?” I hear those war-drums banged by hipster pastors those in trendy churches, and I just don’t get it. Either the Bible is true, or it’s not. If it is true, then “salvation comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” not by entertainment or cultural relevancy or even by storytelling. You cannot “make” the Bible relevant. It is or it isn’t. If you believe the Bible is relevant, preach it.

Someone sent this to me from a church in another state: “We do not allow children between the ages of three months and fifth grade in the adult worship service.” Note: It is not a preference there, it is the law! The message went on to explain that adults will “worship better” without distractions. Two questions: when did training our children to worship with us become a distraction? I thought it was a privilege and a responsibility. Secondly, when did “personal comfort” become our highest goal at church?

Since we are on the subject of our children, let me encourage you Dads to hug your children every day. Tell your daughters and especially your sons, that you are proud of them. Their souls will bear that imprint throughout their lives.

If you are having trouble with boomerang children, you might laugh (or cry) when you hear Paul Shanklin’s classic song from a few years back, “Can’t Fit the Cradle.” It is set to the tune of the classic Harry Chapin song, but the chorus goes, “Well, he can’t fit the cradle and he sleeps ’til noon. The boy’s 42 and he don’t have a clue. When you gonna leave son?” ‘I don’t know when. We’ll have a good time til then, Dad, we’ll have a good time til then.’” At the end of the song, the boy finally gets married again and moves out. The dad sings, “And as they drove away, it occurred to me, the boy had a front door key, yeah, he still had a front door key!”

Speaking of keys, get a copy of Rosaria Butterfield’s book, “The Gospel Comes With a House Key.” If you don’t know anything about Butterfield, you should Google her and read how she came to Christ as a radical feminist English professor at Syracuse University. Or read her first book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.” Her latest book is an invitation to ordinary Christians like you and me to practice what she calls “radical, ordinary hospitality.” It challenges us to be more intentional about opening our home, our dinner table, our hearts, and our lives to those around us.

As we take the next few steps into a new year, let me remind you that actions can become habits. Habits shape character. Character helps determine destiny. Put some actions into play this year with these four “starts.” Start reading the Bible. Start going to church. With over 400 in the county to choose from, there is no excuse. Find one that still believes the Bible and darken their door every week. Start eating dinner together as a family. And start telling people in your life that you love them. Why wait until you’re on a ventilator and they won’t believe you then, anyway?

Read More
Mark Fox December 31, 2018
Mark Fox December 24, 2018

When Great Fear Turned to Greater Joy

Dave Barry wrote several years ago about the increase of political correctness we find in our culture surrounding Christmas: “To avoid offending anybody, the schools dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and, this is a real song, ‘Suzy Snowflake,’ all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.” I don’t know about “Suzy Snowflake,” but I do know that when angels appeared 2,000 years ago to poor shepherds on a Judean hillside, they weren’t there to talk about the weather.

Luke tells us that the shepherds were outside, watching their sheep, and an angel appeared to them. Let me ask you: what would you do if an angel showed up at your workplace? I am not talking about your wife, men, though I don’t doubt that she is angelic. No, this was an angel from heaven, not a redeemed sinner from earth. The shepherds went from calm to terrified in an instant. The Bible says they were “greatly afraid.” JB Phillips translates it, “terror-stricken.”

Luke was a historian, and was not given to exaggeration. If anything, he understated the case. The shepherds were terrified and part of the reason was that the angel just appeared, out of nowhere, without warning. Perhaps that’s why the same angel said, “Do not be afraid,” nearly every time he showed up.

God turns the great fear of the shepherds into the greater joy of the shepherds. How? How do you go from fear to joy? By hearing and believing good news. Think of a person waiting for the doctor to come in with the test results. He has been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. Now the surgery and the treatments have been done, and test results will reveal the truth. The patient is filled with fear as he waits to hear from the doctor. He goes from great fear to greater joy instantly when he hears the good news: “Your cancer is gone.” The angel says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Heaven has come down; God’s glory has come to earth. Great fear has been replaced by greater joy because of the greatest news the world has ever heard. The bad news for healed cancer patients is that they are still going to die. The good news for redeemed sinners is that though we die, we will live again because of the news the angels proclaimed on a Judean hillside two millennia ago. Are you looking for joy this Christmas? Then believe and receive the good news.

You can sing about the weather for the next few days if you like. Since God is the weatherman, only he can “let it snow.” I would rather join in the angels’ song, translated by Charles Wesley this way: “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem! Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”

May you have a merry and joyous Christmas!

Read More
Mark Fox December 24, 2018
Mark Fox December 17, 2018

Pass the Pecan Pie

During this time of the year, when my favorite foods are so plentiful, I can go on a sweet-eating binge as fast as you can say “homemade fudge.” Which brings up the question I ask my wife every year: “Why do we need to make fudge?”

“It is a Christmas tradition,” she says. To which I reply, “So is gaining five pounds. Some traditions we could do without.”

We have lots of things we like to do around Christmas, just like you. We read through the Christmas story, starting Dec. 1, and follow the story of the Messiah’s birth as it was foretold centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We participate in Operation Christmas Child. More than the socks, toys, and candy, a local church delivers each shoebox gift, and the pastor there will share the Gospel message that God sent Jesus “that the world through Him might be saved.”

We sing Christmas carols to neighbors or to shut-ins from our church, and sometimes take them a basket filled with goodies. We write a Christmas letter. On the night we decorate the Christmas tree, we make cookies, watch “The Christmas Carol,” or my new favorite Christmas movie, “The Nativity Story.” On that night, the kids (and their kids) sleep with the tree. Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap … do not.

On Christmas morning, we gather in the living room and read Luke 2 together, sing a Christmas carol, and pray. Then after breakfast, we gather again in the living room to open presents. The iPhone cameras are rolling, the kids and grandkids are at the top of their game with funny comments, and the love that we share as a family is sweeter than the chocolate chip pie from Christmas Eve dinner.

Which brings me back around to eating too much during the holidays. I will exercise more this month in an effort to fight back, but in a way that’s like building a hospital at the bottom of a mountain instead of adding guardrails at the top. I need to send my will to the gym. The truth is, many of us simply have weak wills that need to be trained, not just for portion control at the table but for every other area of our lives. Our minds are quite capable, and we know much more than we have ever lived out. Our emotions are fully operational and ready to take over at a moment’s notice, and for many of us, lead the whole time. But our wills are puny, malnourished, 90-pound weaklings. That is why I can stand in front of the dessert table and have this conversation.

My mind: “I just ate four thousand calories. I don’t need dessert.” My emotions: “Oh, good grief, it is once a year. Besides, take a look at that pecan pie.” My will: “Uh…umm…well…”

You get the picture. My will can be an absolute wimp, which is why I need to develop it. Here are some tips from a book written by Helen Andelin in the 1960’s. She gives three steps to take every day to help in training our wills, which I have adapted:

Do something unpleasant — take a cold shower, exercise, or eat health food you don’t like.

Do something difficult — do a hard job, stick to your diet, work on a difficult goal.

Demand quotas of yourself — get up at 4:30, get a specific job done at a given time, put your finances on a budget, read a book every month, have exercise goals.

I need this advice, and maybe some of you do as well. Merry Christmas, and pass (up?) the pecan pie.

Read More
Mark Fox December 17, 2018
Mark Fox December 12, 2018

Christmas Existed Before the World was Created

When I was little, around this time of year, I would be almost beside myself with anticipation. I could not wait for the day to finally arrive. You know which one I’m talking about. My brothers and I would try to be on our best behavior, for one month out of the year, at least, because the day was coming. We didn’t want to lose out on anything that might be under the tree or in our stocking on the day. So we kept our rooms clean. Kind of. I mean, Mom was happy as long as she didn’t open my closet door. You know, my skateboard, which I stuffed in the closet last, could fall from the top shelf right onto her head.

But we cleaned a little, and we even asked Mom if she needed help with cleaning the kitchen as she prepared for the big day. We were like little angels, my brothers and I. We would even strike up a peace accord during the month, and agree not to shoot our BB guns at each other, until after the day. There was nothing more important than the day, and that’s why, on the Eve of the Day, for one night, we three brothers would sleep in the same bed. It got to be pretty cumbersome when we were 17, 15, and 11. But it was worth it, for Christmas.

Which leads me to a question: When did Christmas begin? Was it sometime around 4 B.C., in the dusty little town of Bethlehem? Or did Christmas emerge from a pagan holiday in Rome in the first century? Maybe Christmas was created when Nicholas was a bishop in Turkey in the 4th century. Perhaps Christmas doesn’t exist at all, and we should resign ourselves to wishing each other the more benign “Happy Holidays.” One note of irony is that even the word, “holiday” is a contracted form of “holy day.” The next time the clerk wishes you one, with a smile thank him or her for helping you keep this season holy.

The truth is, Christmas did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem, but long before that. In fact, Christmas had no beginning. It always was. If we define Christmas as the coming of the Messiah, the incarnation of the Christ, the time when God took on human flesh and dwelt among us for a while, then there was never a time in history that Christmas did not exist. At least, not in the mind of God. In fact, even before time existed, Christmas was. You could go back one hundred million years before the birth of Christ, and Christmas was there.

How do we know that? Because the Bible speaks plainly on the subject. Peter wrote of Jesus, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for you who through him believe in God.” In other words, it was in God’s mind to send Jesus to the earth long before God ever formed the world. He knew we would need a Savior, and there was only one available.

Remember, love is an action, a commitment of the will that results in one sacrificing for another. The Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Do you want to know what God gave you for Christmas? Before the world was ever spoken into existence, God gave His son, Jesus, to die for you and for me. What else can He do for you? And how do we respond to such a gift? The songwriter said it this way:

What then can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What then can I give Him? I must give my heart.

Read More
Mark Fox December 12, 2018