Mark Fox May 13, 2024

Grace-Powered Diligence

Because of disobedience, the children of Israel had to do laps around Mt. Sinai for 40 years. But we are called by God to grow up in obedience through grace. And in order to do that, Peter wrote, we need diligence. It was one of his favorite words, one that expresses urgency and purpose. He told the believers to “make every effort to supplement your faith,” by adding virtue, knowledge, self-control, and more. He told them to “be all the more diligent to conform your calling and election.” He told them, “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”

There are two ditches to avoid on the road to spiritual growth as followers of Jesus. The ditch on one side of the road, legalism, promotes the idea that you earn God’s favor outside of the work of Jesus Christ. That God accepts us because we dress a certain way or do or don’t do certain things. No, God accepts us solely because of what Jesus did on the cross. Otherwise, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was either not necessary or not sufficient. Legalism ultimately leads to bondage to pride or bondage to inconsolable shame and guilt. The ditch on the other side of the road is just as dangerous. It was called antinomianism by Martin Luther, which he used to describe people who say that belief in Christ eliminates the need for the law. This lessens the grace of the cross and makes it, as Ryan Reeves wrote, “a mere demonstration of love not atonement.” This ditch is attractive to people who say, “give me Jesus without any rules.” In other words, I want to be a Christian but only on my terms. Don’t preach to me; I am a child of God and I will decide what I believe about the Bible’s commands. This ditch leads to cultural Christianity, shallow doctrine, worldly living. To tell these folks to make every effort to grow in faith and obedience is not received well. 

 So we need to ask the question of ourselves: am I making every effort to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ? It is not hard for any of us to understand that concept, because we apply it, or don’t apply it, every day in every area of our lives. I remember the early days of Antioch, when I needed to supplement my income as a pastor working different jobs to feed my family and pay the bills. One job I had was selling World Book Encyclopedias door to door. That’s not even a thing now, is it? But the woman who hired me said, “If you knock on 10 doors, you will be able sell one set of encyclopedias.” She was right. Learning what you need to know to be successful in your job and then being diligent to apply that every day is a recipe for success at work.

   The same applies to taking care of our bodies. We know that muscles that are not exercised will atrophy. We know that the older we get, the more maintenance it takes to keep those muscles working well. There’s a lady I see regularly at the Y in the weight room, and it is always the same routine. She never really does anything there! She finds a machine that is not being used, usually the leg press, and she sits down. She pulls out her phone, puts the pin in the machine at the least amount of weight, and calls someone on her phone or just scrolls through her social media.  Every now and then, she will make a half-hearted effort to, you know, push on the weight once or twice. It is funny to me, and I find myself thinking, “You know, lady, why do you even come to the Y? You could sit outside and at least get some Vitamin D from the sun while you talk on your phone. But that machine right there? You will get out of that exercise exactly what you put in. Which is nothing!”

 The Christian life is hard. It requires diligence, and diligence, by definition, is difficult. But let me remind you as I remind myself, that our diligence is and always will be grace-powered. We have to go back regularly to an important passage where Paul combines an important command and a critical promise: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (that’s the command), for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (that’s the promise). God works in us to give us the want-to and the follow-through. We have the responsibility to work out what God has given us through diligence and effort, but we do so by his power.

That makes all the difference.

 

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Mark Fox May 13, 2024
Mark Fox May 6, 2024

How Should We Live in Light of the End of Time?

18th century British writer Samuel Johnson said, ‘Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ Peter makes a similar observation connected to a question in the last chapter of his second letter. Since these things will take place, the dissolving of the world as we know it, Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”? If the world as we know it is going to be dissolved, how should we then live? Augustine wrote about this in his book, City of God, defining virtue as “rightly ordered loves.” Our lives are filled with loves and some things we love too much and some not enough, but the summum bonum, the highest good, is God himself. We are to love him most of all and recognize that all other ‘good things’ are from his hand, including the earth we live on and the air we breathe and the family he has given us and the church community we enjoy. All of them are intended to lead us back to him. Here’s another blessing: when we rightly order our loves, we find the greatest joy. David sang to God, “…in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 

Augustine wrote, “For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you, but only to those who love you for your own sake. You yourself are their joy. Happiness is to rejoice in you and for you and because of you. This is happiness and there is no other. Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.” (Confessions)

That reminded me of John Piper’s well-known quote: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

 So, knowing the end of the age is coming and Jesus will return, how should we live? For him. With every effort towards holiness and godliness. God will help us do it; Peter told us that in the first chapter: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him…” We have his divine power to order our loves and live worthy of the Gospel, even though we are weak. I remember when my children were little and I would ask them to ‘help me’ pick up something heavy. Even though I would be carrying 99% of the weight of it, in their minds, they were doing half the work. I would praise them for their ‘muscles’ and they would grin and flex for me.  But here’s the thing. I was loaning them my ability to carry something so they would learn to carry it on their own when their strength increased. God’s power is always needed for us to live godly lives, and we will never be able to do so on our own. But like a loving earthly father, our heavenly Father teaches us how to grow in godliness. Paul loved this word and used it a number of times, especially in his pastoral letters.

He told Timothy, “train yourself for godliness;” Godliness does not come by itself. We must put effort into it, using his divine power that gives us everything that pertains to life and godliness. It is an attitude and a manner of life for us. 

Godliness is not only worth the effort; it is to be pursued. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”  Again, godliness is how we are to live, and godliness requires our sacrifice and our effort. We must help one another grow in godliness, as that is one of the primary purposes of the church community.

In light of the end that is coming, may our hearts and minds be concentrated wonderfully on the Lord, who is our hope and our joy.

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Mark Fox May 6, 2024
Mark Fox April 28, 2024

The Lord’s Gracious Delay

I am so glad Jesus did not return before 1972; that was the year the goodness of the Lord led me to repentance. Some of you could say the same about 1990, or 2000, or maybe someone here or listening online would say that about 2024!

Peter says in his second letter with regard to the second coming of Christ, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise.” But we could also say, the Lord is not slow. Period. He is never slow, and he is never late. It reminded me of Gandalf’s quip when Frodo said, “You’re late!” Gandalf replied, “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” God does everything precisely when he means to. But Peter adds that the Lord is not slack or slow in fulfilling his promise, the way we would feel if someone told us they would come and help us or see us or give us something we need. And they don’t come on time or even in the same month they told us they would come. We count slowness in matters of seconds, or at best minutes, don’t we? If we see God as our waiter, then we want that cup of coffee right now, not two minutes from now. We want God to heal us or promote us or help us or bless us right now. And if we think of Jesus’ return in the same way, we may get impatient as we see the evil and corruption of the world increasing at almost the speed of light and we do not understand why God would allow it to continue. Habakkuk wrote about the judgment of God that was coming on Judah and on the Babylonians, but not for many years. God told the prophet, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

Why has God delayed for more than 2000 years to send the Son of God, the returning King of kings? Is it because he is enjoying storing up wrath for unbelievers? No. It is because of his infinite love for those who will be saved. He is, Peter writes, “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Paul wrote the same thing to Timothy, that we should pray for all people, for kings and for all in authority, because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The way to understand this is to acknowledge that there are three ways God wills something.

The first is by sovereign decree. He spoke the universe into existence by decree. What he willed by sovereign decree came into being without fail. The second is the will of his commands for his people. He commands us to have no other Gods before him. He commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to forgive others as he has forgiven us. That is his will for us. Will we do that perfectly? No. The third way to speak about God’s will is illustrated in this text from Peter’s letter. R.C. Sproul calls it God’s will of disposition, or, his attitude. He does not delight in the death of the wicked. He said the same to Ezekiel: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

God certainly does decree the death of the wicked. As Peter wrote, God will rescue the godly and will “keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment.” At the same time, his sovereign will, and the reason he delays the day of Jesus’ return, is that he will not allow any of his elect to perish. Each of them, because of God’s grace, will reach repentance and be saved.

That is cause for great rejoicing.

 

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Mark Fox April 28, 2024
Mark Fox April 22, 2024

Scoffer…or settled?

Are you scoffer? Or are you settled in your faith?

Scoffers will come in, Peter wrote in his second letter, and we need to be ready for that. Why do they scoff at what they don’t understand? Peter tells us, and so does Jude. They scoff because they are “following their own desires,” Peter wrote. Jude said they were “following their own sinful desires.” It has been proven to me over and over since I was a young Christian. I would hear that someone had left the church and was telling people that, “You know, I don’t really believe that stuff is true anymore.” I would eventually hear that their disbelief really had nothing to do with why they left the church and walked away from the faith. It was because they had given themselves to sinful patterns of behavior that they simply did not want to give up. Peter said it, plainly: scoffers scoff because they are following their own desires. A young man may claim to have decided that he doesn’t believe anymore what the Bible teaches about sexual purity. But his sinful choices preceded his “decision” about the truth of God’s word. Again, scoffers scoff because they are following their own desires.

Peter wrote that some of the scoffers also reject the truth about God’s judgment with this argument: “Where is he? He’s not coming! I mean, look around. Ever since the beginning of this faith you people believe in, everything is continuing just like it always has!” Some would say to us that they don’t believe there is any point to anything we do as Christians. Why try to be good when you can just do what you want and be happy? The scoffers sometimes put stupid bumper stickers on their cars that say, “Jesus is coming back! Look busy.” They reject his grace. They mock his authority.

Peter answered the scoffers’ objections who say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” You can read it in his letter. But let me remind you of what 2 angels and what Jesus himself said about the return of the Lord. 40 days after the resurrection, the disciples stood and watched Jesus ascend into heaven. They needed assurance because they did not have the Spirit of God living in them yet. So two angels appeared and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Translation: the risen Savior will return in glory.

But go back more than a month, before the crucifixion of the Son of God. Jesus said this to his disciples in the upper room on the night he would be betrayed, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Translation: the risen Savior is coming back for all who belong to Him by grace and through faith.

That’s all I need to hear. That’s all my mom needed to hear in November of 2021, when she knew she was dying. She said to me, her smile twisted by a stroke, “It’s ok, Mark. I’m going home.”

Lord, come quickly! I want to see my mom again. But even more than that, I want to see you.

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Mark Fox April 22, 2024
Mark Fox April 14, 2024

False teachers are sometimes false converts

In Peter’s second letter, he spends a whole chapter on the subject of the dangers of false teachers in the church. And he is mostly referring to false teachers who may claim to know Jesus but they in fact had false conversions. It is true that there are men and women in the church who are truly born again and then drift away from sound doctrine. They are enticed by the enemy and their own fleshly desires and begin to believe and even to teach unsound doctrine. Some of them grow huge churches and at the same time that they are preaching Christ crucified, they are also serving up deadly works-righteousness in their weekly sermons or even promoting sensuality of some form or another. They may be misguided believers but we must certainly judge their wrong teaching and hold it up to the Word of God as the good Bereans did. As Luke records in Acts 17, the believers in Berea examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul and Silas was teaching them was the truth!

But let’s be clear. Peter is not talking about those guys in his second letter, not the misguided believers. He is talking about false teachers who were never truly born again. They put on the uniform and learn the language but their hearts remain blackened by sin. Jude says, “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouth boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” Peter says these men actually seemed to escape the defilements of the world for a season, because they heard of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They heard the truth and for a while conformed their lives, in their own strength of will, to what accords with sound doctrine. They cleaned themselves up! It seems. But wait. Can anyone do that? Have you ever heard someone say they can’t come to Christ right now, not until I get myself cleaned up? And you say to them, what? Don’t kid yourself, man! Jesus catches his fish and Jesus alone can clean them. How do we know these false teachers were also false converts? “They are again entangled in them (the defilements of the world) and overcome (by them), the last state has become worse for them than the first.” The disease they were born with, sin, was never actually cured through faith in Jesus, and their defilements, or the pollution of their lives is even worse now than when they were not pretending to be saved. 

Then Peter says something shocking. These false teachers who are false converts would have been better off never knowing the way of righteousness. Or he could have said, “knowing about the way of righteousness.” This is a hard word. One explanation may be this: to hear the truth and ignore it inoculates you against the truth. It is harder for you to even hear it after that. Also, to hear the truth and pretend to embrace it makes you a liar and a deceiver. And in so many cases as we see here, someone who rejects the truth starts a campaign to entice others away from it as well. Paul wrote about that to the church in Galatia: “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” 

And that must be our answer to false teachers as well. We do not yield even for a moment. We stand firmly and loudly proclaim the truth of the gospel.

 

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Mark Fox April 14, 2024
Mark Fox April 8, 2024

Hearts trained in Greed

“They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin.” The language Peter uses to describe false teachers is not metaphorical. It is stark, straightforward, and scary. Sexual sin was then and is now a prominent characteristic of false teachers. Along with their boldness and arrogance to believe that they can say and do anything they want, their lust and greed makes them believe they can have anything, or anyone, they want. Perhaps Peter was thinking of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, which became a part of the fabric of early church teaching. Words like this had never been heard before and were probably rejected by casual or nominal believers, and certainly by false teachers. What were the words? Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Sexual sin begins with the eyes, and Peter says these men were like predators, looking for the next person to corrupt. And they cannot stop, their lust is insatiable, never satisfied, as they see every woman as a potential adulteress. Who are the ones most likely to fall victim to these predators? Peter says, “They entice unstable souls.” Those who are unsettled, not grounded, and therefore the most vulnerable. It reminds me of how cults grow so often. The charismatic and heretical leader looks for the young and vulnerable, the bruised and unloved, the isolated and alone, and he entices them into the fold with promises that they will be loved and cared for there. Instead, they will be used and discarded.

 

Another marker for false teachers is greed. Peter says, “they have hearts trained in greed.” He uses a word and a concept that was very familiar in that Greek culture. We Americans didn’t invent gyms and places to work out and train our bodies. The Greeks in Peter’s day and way before that were committed to physical training. Green writes, “There were centers founded for the physical training of young citizens, which then became venues for mental as well as physical education, serving as secondary schools in the community.” We are body, soul, and spirit, and all three must be exercised. Paul recognized this and wrote, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He saw the connection between discipline of the body and the effectiveness of his ministry to other. He also wrote, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” There is action required, training that is intentional and committed.

But these false teachers were also committed to training. They actively exercised themselves in cultivating a love for money. They trained their hearts in covetousness and greed, yearning for more, filled with envy of those who have what they want. I was talking with a man this week about the power of addiction, as he volunteers at a ministry to those who are addicted to drugs. We have all seen it or read about it. An addict is constantly thinking about his next fix, and his mind and body are both tormented until that fix is found. His master is his drug. But the drug that gives him temporary pleasure brings long-term pain and destruction right along with it. It is the same for the man or woman who is never satisfied with what they have but are consumed with lust for more. Their master is money. And it consumes their very soul. Again, Paul warns us, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Those who find themselves spending most of their time thinking about money are on dangerous ground.

Peter said, “there will be false teachers.” And there are. The Bible gives us markers to look for, and warnings for our own souls as well.

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Mark Fox April 8, 2024
Mark Fox April 1, 2024

He Opened Their Eyes

I love the story Luke tells of the two men, Cleopas and another unnamed disciple of Jesus, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing the events that they have just witnessed. And while they talk and reason with one another about these things, Jesus walks up beside them and asks them a question. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus? We don’t know, but the simple answer may be that God prevented them from recognizing Jesus. Isn’t that the case with many whom we talk to about the Lord? We have the Spirit of Christ but they cannot recognize him. Their hearts are hardened or broken over the circumstances of their lives or it is simply not the right time yet. 

Jesus asks them a question, as he has done so many times in his ministry. You know, Jesus never asked a question because he lacked knowledge, but in order to peel open hearts, that he might speak into them. (Never underestimate the power of a well-placed question! It will often provide access into a life that nothing else will.) Jesus asked them what they had been talking about as they walked.

We see that God has a sense of humor, when Cleopas responds, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there?” I can imagine Jesus stifling a grin because he is the only one in the city who DOES know what just happened. Saints, we can come to the Lord sometimes with our prayers and say, “Lord, don’t you see? Don’t you know what is going on with me here?” And the truth is, he is the only one who knows what is going on with you. We don’t ever fully know what is going on, even with ourselves. But the Lord does, and cares.

Jesus says, “What things?” Never underestimate the power of an open-ended question.

Cleopas and the other disciple of Jesus respond with a word that reveals dashed hopes. They say that Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified, and then they reveal their hearts: “But we had hoped that he  was the one to redeem Israel.” Two things about their response: first, they had misplaced hope. Their hope was for a Messiah who would come as a victorious champion and conquer Rome and deliver Israel from bondage. They did not understand the truth, that God had always told his people that the One who came to deliver them would have to do it through his own death. That the path to glory went through suffering. They have ignored the bloodiness of Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Instead they have gone right to Isaiah 61: 1-2 “…he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…”

Second, it was hope that had been buried with Jesus. We had hoped, they said. In other words, we don’t hope any more. We were hoping, but all hope is now lost. Jesus of Nazareth is dead. In fact, he was put in a tomb. That’s where you put dead people. That’s why the women went there today, to see the body, but when they got there to see the dead body, the dead body wasn’t there. He was crucified and buried, but now he is gone. An angel said he was alive, but they didn’t see him. They just know his dead body wasn’t there. You get the point, right? They were sure that Jesus was dead.

It was when he was breaking the bread and blessing it that these two finally saw Jesus. I love the way Luke says it: “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Was it that they saw the nail prints in his hands as he was breaking the bread? Or was it the way he broke the bread that reminded them of times when Jesus broke bread and fed five thousand in the wilderness? Or was it the way he spoke to the Father as he blessed the bread that reminded them of the way they had heard Jesus talk to the Father before? The truth is, we don’t know, but what a difference was made in the hearts and the lives and the attitudes of these two men!

When Jesus opens our eyes to the truth of who he is in every situation, the situation itself may not change at all, but we do. And if we have believed a lie and then Jesus opens our eyes to the truth, it is resurrection day all over again. 

The men knew they had to go find the other disciples and tell them all they had just seen and heard. Night is approaching, they have just walked seven miles, but neither of those facts deter them now. They rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem. How many want to wager that they ran a little, if not the whole way back? Truth sets us free. Free to run. Free to live without fear and guilt and shame. 

Jesus Christ is risen in our hearts. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

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Mark Fox April 1, 2024
Mark Fox March 25, 2024

The elephant in the room is Jesus

I attended a panel discussion several years back that was advertised with the title, “Good without God.” Knowing that one of the largest growing groups in the country is the “nones,” those who answer surveys that ask for a religious affiliation that they have none, I wanted to hear what five from academia would say about their own spiritual journeys. I also was intrigued by the idea that there are those who have spent part of their lives seeking to disprove or at least to dismiss the “God idea,” as one of them described what many of you and I embrace.

Let me first say that I respect the panelists and their courage to speak out about what they believe, or don’t believe. I also thank God that we live in a country where that is still permitted. Like the founders, I believe that one of the truths that is self-evident is that human rights come from our Creator, not from government or any other institution of man. May God help us when those rights come under attack.

Second, I was also intrigued by any idea that good can exist outside of God, or that we can call something good or bad without appealing to an objective standard of morality.  If we do not have an objective moral standard, then how do we determine whether Samaritans Purse is good or the Third Reich was bad? If we do not have an objective moral standard, how can we ask others to believe that our beliefs are good? If we don’t have an objective moral standard, and don’t care if anyone else on the planet believes the way we do, then of what value is our belief?

Third, the elephant in the room that evening was Jesus. His name never came up, and yet Jesus is the only founder of a “world religion” who claimed to be God. Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, and Muhammad came not claiming to be God but to be a way to God. Jesus alone said, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” One of the panelist said that the whole “God idea” only dates back to Abraham, but that people were good for tens of thousands of years without God. Really? Tell that to the people who lived and died in Noah’s day. God destroyed the earth with a flood because he saw the “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Laying aside the argument over creation or Noah and the flood, Jesus plainly says he existed before Abraham, even though when he made this claim, Jesus was only 33 years old. 

The problem with Christianity has never been Jesus, but it has always been us. We Christians sometimes give it a bad name because of our pride, our prejudice, or our ignorance. But make no mistake. It is to Jesus we must look to validate Christianity. If Jesus is found to be a fraud, or a lunatic, or self-deceived,  Christianity crumbles. If Jesus did not rise from the dead after three days in a tomb, then all we who put our hope in him are fools at best.

So, here is the challenge. If you would see yourself with feet firmly planted with the nones, would you at least be willing to attack the resurrection of Jesus with every molecule in your body? Do what Lord George Lyttleton, Frank Morison, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and many others have done.  Each of these former atheists were scholars, college professor, journalists, or members of Parliament. Each of them sought to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each of them came to believe in Jesus after carefully examining the evidence with a desire to know the truth. Be careful. The elephant in the room loves when people seek the truth.

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Mark Fox March 25, 2024
Mark Fox March 18, 2024

I Want to Know Him

It is an amazing thing to me that 30 years after Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he expresses the cry of his heart in a letter to one of the churches he planted: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” What does that statement by Paul teach us about Christ, except that yes, we are able to know him! Even as a 15-year-old, this verse captured me the first time I read it. Maybe I saw then with immature faith that this was the greatest cry of Paul’s heart. He had forsaken the pursuit of fame and fortune as a Pharisee and had given himself fully to the pursuit of Christ. Could there be anybody in the first century who knew Christ better than Paul? And yet, here is Paul crying out from a Roman prison that more than anything, he wanted to know the Lord.

It has been a 51-year pursuit for me, longer for some of you, shorter for others. I know that I will finally fully know Jesus when I meet him face to face, but I want to know him on this side of heaven. I want to grow more like him. The big theological term that describes what I desire more of, is sanctification.

Sanctification is the process by which we grow in our relationship with Jesus. It is progressive and continuous until the day we die. And though God takes the initiative, sanctification requires our participation. Therefore, it looks different in different people because of the amount of participation by the individual. The disobedient Christian grows much more slowly than the obedient one. You know this is a law of physics: Speed x Time = Distance. If you drive at 60mph for one hour, you will have driven 60 miles. It is also a spiritual law. Persistent obedience over time leads to maturity. Sanctification happens as we take a “long walk of obedience” with the Lord, cooperating with the Spirit of God in the plan He has chosen for us.

How do we do it, then? How do we grow in our relationship with the Lord, to truly get to know Jesus? Let’s acknowledge that part of our growth comes from just doing the work: reading and studying the Bible, learning to pray, obeying the main things and the plain things of Scripture. But our spiritual maturity is also affected by our relationships. If we spend time with people who know Jesus better than we do, we will likely grow in our relationship with Jesus ourselves.

Ask yourself this question: “Who knows Jesus better than I do that I am close to?” I am fortunate to live with someone who knows Jesus better than I, my wife! She is not only my best friend and closest companion, she has been my example and teacher in many ways over these 41 years of marriage. I also have friends who are more mature than I in their relationship with the Lord, and I learn by being with them. I would suggest you ask someone who is close to the Lord to have coffee with you. Ask them how they know him like they do. Listen carefully, and begin to follow their walk, until it becomes your own. Be forewarned that those who draw near to Jesus will be changed. He will ask you to stop some things that are important to you and start others that have been neglected. The long walk of obedience will be worth it.

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Mark Fox March 18, 2024
Mark Fox March 11, 2024

There Will Be False Teachers and Prophets!

 

 

R.C. Sproul wrote, “I doubt if there has ever been a time in church history when professing Christians have been less concerned about doctrine than they are in our day. We hear almost daily that doctrine does not matter, that Christianity is a relationship, not a creed.” And yes, we are in a relationship with Christ, but you cannot read Scripture, which is our guidebook for life in Christ, without seeing the importance given to doctrine, sound teaching, understanding truth and recognizing error. Peter wrote in his second letter, just look at the false prophets who lived among the people of God in ancient times! In the same way that false prophets infiltrated the people of God then, false teachers do the same today. Again, Sproul says, “The most destructive threat to the people of God in the Old Testament was not the armies of the Philistines, the Assyrians, or the Amalekites, but the false prophets within their gates.” Peter mentioned godly prophets, men who spoke from God, or through whom God spoke. But false prophets and teachers speak on their own and claim they have heard from God.

Some of you have heard me tell the story of Miriam, the lady in white, who paid Antioch a visit in the very early days of the church. When she showed up in a flowy white dress, I thought that was a little odd, but whatever, I am certainly not a fashion icon or expert. But when I welcomed her and she told me she was the “Bride of Christ,” that’s when things started going sideways. I said, “I’m sorry, but you may be part of the Bride of Christ, the church, but, you are not the Bride of Christ!” She smiled at me like a kindergarten teacher would smile at a 4 year old who just said 2+2 equals 5. After we sang a few worship songs, I asked if anyone had a testimony. A few people shared and then I saw the Bride stand up and say in a loud voice, “The time of the Gentiles is over!” All heads swiveled as one as every person in the congregation turned to look. “God has closed the door on the Gentiles, and they will no longer be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yea, I am returning to My people now,” she spoke prophetically.She continued, “Israel will come back to the fold. But the day of the Gentiles is over.” She took a breath, and I was hoping along with everyone else that she was finished, but no, she had one more shocker. “Not only that,” she said, “The Lord says there will be a plague of ants on the earth.”

There goes our church picnic at the park next week, I thought.

The Lord reminded me that day of the importance of elders, and I asked if any of them would like to reply. One of them shot to his feet and said that her prophecy did not line up with Scripture and quoted several places to show why. And, he said, there is no indication of a plague of ants happening right now or any time in the Bible.

God said to Jeremiah, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” God brought judgment on the shepherds who were not only not feeding their people, but who scattered the flock and poisoned them with false teaching. God said he would bring his sheep back to the fold, and said, “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing.”

We hear it often today, and I repeat what I have written before. The people of God, many of them, have been scattered by no teaching or wrong teaching, and by no leadership or abusive leadership, and many have wandered for years and some have given up on the church altogether. That is not the answer. God did not tell his people in Jeremiah’s days that it was ok for them to be scattered and no longer cared for and no longer under authority. Neither does He say that today.

There are healthy churches that are led by healthy elders and populated with people who are growing in their love for God, for His Word, and for each other. Find those churches and become a member there. Submit to the elders and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And study the Word of God, which is true, so you will be able to identity error when a false teacher or prophet comes along.

 

 

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Mark Fox March 11, 2024