Mark Fox October 18, 2021

The Women who Watched Jesus Die

At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have come to the heart of this Gospel, and it is the reason for our hope even in the face of our own death. Anne Graham Lotz said, “Death is a door. When we close our eyes in this life, we will open our eyes to Jesus.” That’s because, as DL Moody said, “Death may be the King of terrors, but Jesus is the King of kings!”  The first point of my sermon about Jesus on the cross yesterday was about the women who watched.

Mark’s gospel says these three women watched “from a distance.” But at least they watched. They were afraid, as we will see in chapter 16, but at least they were there. To be present and fearful is better than to be absent and fearful. The men, at least according to Mark’s gospel, had all scattered and fled. These three women stayed. Who were they? Mary Magdalene is named first and in all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene’s name appears as the first witness to the resurrection. We know she loved Jesus and he loved her. Luke and Mark both tell us that Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene from seven demons. You see that in Mark 16:9. But there is no biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She is often portrayed that way in literature and in film, even in the excellent series, “The Chosen,” but the Gospels do not support that. This mischaracterization began in the 6th century when Pope Gregory I conflated the story of Mary Magdalene’s deliverance in Luke 8 with the story Luke told in chapter 7 of an unnamed “woman of the city who was a sinner.” Mary Magdalene is named 12 times in the Gospels, more than most of the apostles, and there is no evidence to support that she is ever referred to in the Gospels as an unnamed woman.

The second woman is Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses. Most believe this is Mary the mother of Jesus, and that her other two sons, Judas and Simon, are not named because they are not known to the church in Rome at the time of Mark’s writing. James the younger? Perhaps this is to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Many believe Salome, the third woman mentioned here by Mark, is the mother of James and John and is the sister to Mary. That would make Jesus and the sons of Zebedee cousins. We cannot know these things for sure, and it is not a hill to die on. What is important here and in the next chapter, since it is rare for Mark to mention personal names, is that he does this to establish the eyewitnesses who saw where Jesus was buried, and saw him when he was resurrected. These women were witnesses to the greatest moment in human history, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What is most important about these women and all the women who are not named but who were clearly disciples of Jesus? Mark tells us. These women “followed him and ministered to him.” The verb tenses are continuous. The women were afraid at this point, but they did not stop following Jesus and  they sought to minister to him, even to anoint his dead body. It is only angels and women who are said to have “ministered to Jesus” in the Gospel of Mark. These women, and the “many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem,” as Mark said, were faithful followers of Jesus, even though they were not the most notable, and most were never named, unlike the twelve apostles. But as Mark writes, what these women did, following and ministering to Jesus, is the very picture of discipleship.

Want to be a disciple of Jesus? Follow him, day by day, and minister to him by loving his people and having compassion on the lost, day by day.

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Mark Fox October 18, 2021
Mark Fox October 10, 2021

There They Crucified Him

Plutarch wrote, “every criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back.” Jesus was too weak to carry the patibulum, the cross beam, so the Roman soldiers “compelled a passerby” to carry it for him. Simon of Cyrene, which was on the north coast of Africa. Simon was likely a man of color, but he was not a Roman citizen and that’s why they told him to do it. He was close by and they needed to get this man and his instrument of torture out of town. What did Simon do for Jesus? He took up his cross and followed Jesus, the very thing that Jesus has told his disciples to do. James Edwards writes, “It is worth considering…whether Simon’s faithfulness in carrying the cross of Jesus resulted in his sons’ participation in the faith and in the church.” I would submit to you that it is the most important thing a son or daughter can see their father and their mother do! Do they see you work hard to provide food and clothing, to keep a clean house and give them opportunities to learn and grow and have fun and get rest and be healthy? Excellent! But even more excellent is that they see their dad and their mom taking up their cross daily and following the Lord. There is no price that could be put on that blessing for any child.

They led Jesus out of the city and to Golgotha, which Mark tells his Roman readers was called “the place of the skull.” There they offered Jesus an ancient narcotic, “wine mixed with myrrh,” but he refused. It would have numbed him a little, but Jesus does not give himself to dulled senses. He welcomes the Father’s will with a fully conscious state.

They divided his clothing by casting lots. The wine mixed with myrrh and the divided clothing were prophesies which the Roman soldiers unwittingly fulfilled. “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21) “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothes they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

They crucified Jesus in between two robbers, recalling the question James and John had asked Jesus, if they could be positioned on his right and his left in the kingdom. Mark opens up a little more now, breaking away from his normal reserve to report on the scorners who passed by the cross. They are not given names, just described as deriding Jesus, wagging their heads, and mocking him. Again, a fulfillment of prophesy: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:7-8)

They mock him as a prophet. “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross.

They mock him as a priest. “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”

They mock him as a king. “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross that we may see and believe.”

The mockery of Jesus did not end at the cross but continues today all around the world. There are churches all over the country that have different color doors on their front lawns that represent Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism and other world religions, along with their symbols, and the message written on them is, “God’s doors are open to all.” It makes a mockery of the cross where the Son of God died who said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…” (John 10:9) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6) “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  (John 17:1-3)

Back to the cross…They mocked the prophet, the priest, the king, the Christ. Notice that all three of these taunts assume that to save oneself is the highest aim, and that to vindicate himself as a Messiah, Jesus only needs to come down from the cross and save himself. But Jesus did not leave glory and come to earth to teach us how to help ourselves or how to fulfill ourselves. We cannot save ourselves, and all the world religions deceive men and women into thinking that they can. But Jesus came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” He came to do the will of the Father, not his own will. The irony is that those who mock him and tell him they would believe in him as a Savior if he would only come down from the cross would have nothing to believe in had he done that. Jesus died on the cross. Just as he said he would.

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Mark Fox October 10, 2021
Mark Fox October 3, 2021

Grace Greater Than Our Sin

It’s OMIF time for Peter again in the upper room (Mark 14:26ff). Open Mouth Insert Foot. He is not a bit happy that Jesus has said that ALL of the twelve disciples will fall away. And it is interesting how Peter frames his protest, isn’t it? He basically throws the other ten right under the Backslide Bus that’s about to barrel down the highway, but claims HE, Peter, will not be on it! He doesn’t defend the other disciples, only himself. It’s like the old ditty that went something like this: “There ain’t no flies on me; might be flies on some those guys, but there ain’t no flies on me!” Peter says to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Peter has little doubt that they will fall away, and ZERO doubt that HE will not fall away. We need to be careful, believers, of thinking of ourselves as the exception to the rule, and especially to point fingers at others we see who don’t live up to the rule. No matter what that rule is. James Edwards writes, “It is of no use to protest that we have not committed the sins we self-righteously condemn in others. The question is not what sins we have committed as much as what sins would we commit were we faced with serious pressure, temptation, opportunity, and threat.”

Jesus interrupts Peter’s boastful claims with a strong dose of reality: Truth? “This very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” The word for ‘betray” literally means to disown. To remove from oneself. To reject. Not just once, Peter, which could be excused by a momentary lapse, a moment of weakness. Three times. And you will know it has happened when you hear the rooster crow the second time. Perhaps the first time Peter heard it, there was a warning to stop in his tracks and turn back to the Lord? But he did not. But the good news is that there is future grace for the people of God! Jesus will give that to Peter on the beach in John 21, when he asks him three times, once for every time Peter disowned him, “Do you love me, Peter?” And Peter will be able to say, “Lord, you know I do, even with all of my failures, you know I do love you.” And oh, how much the Lord loved Peter, and how much the Lord loves you and me. Even when we deny him. His grace is greater than all our sin.

What are some applications from this text?

Let us recognize God is in control of every circumstance, and that future grace is there for us every moment. Without fail. God leads us beside still waters. God also leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we fall, his grace is there to pick us up and give us strength to keep going.

Let us grow in trust and love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. I would imagine it was very difficult for the ten to know how to deal with the one, even though it was Peter, when they found out he had denied the Lord three times. Just like it may be hard for you sometimes to love someone in the church who hurts you, or to trust the pastor or the elders when they don’t do or say what you think we should do or say. But remember, saints. We all fail. Each one of us. Good news! Christ never fails. We all fall. Good news! Christ still loves us when we do.

Cindy and I recently finished reading Megan Hill’s book, “The Place to Belong,” a book about the local church. Here’s an excerpt:

“Dear member of Christ’s church, soon you will hear the voice of Christ calling you, “Come up.” (Rev. 4:11). Come up to the heavenly Jerusalem. Come up to the city with foundations. Come up to the very throne of God and the near presence of Christ. Come up to the assembly of the redeemed. Come, join the multitude. This vision of the church’s sure and certain future ought to encourage our hearts. Soon, the ordinary congregation to which we belong (yes, Antioch!) will be glorified, and it is right for us to eagerly anticipate that day. But, in that day, your church will be no more precious to Christ than it is today. The church in eternity will appear more lovely, but it will not be more loved. And as we commit ourselves even now to the local church, we testify to this reality. Because Christ delights in his church, we delight in it. Because Christ calls it his own, we call it our own. Because Christ loves the church, we love it too. Week after week, we give ourselves for the good of the people whom God loves. And in eternity we will not be disappointed. Come. This is where you belong.”

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Mark Fox October 3, 2021
Mark Fox September 26, 2021

Jesus Knows Your Suffering

Have you ever experienced such an intense anticipation of suffering that you cried out to God, asking him to remove it from you before it happened? I know many of you have. I remember my eye surgery in 2014, when a silicone band was put around my right eyeball in hopes that it would push it against the detached retina. That band is still there, always will be. It didn’t work, though, so the doctor told me I had to lie on my left side for 7 days, on the side of my bed or on the couch so that I could hang my head down.  The hope was that keeping my head in that position for 24 hours a day for a week would help the retina to reattach. After three days, knowing I had 4 more to go, I began to cry. I came as close as I have ever been to a panic attack as I cried out, telling God, “I can’t do this! Please help me. I am not going to be able to do this.” He did help me, and I made it through. But the plan didn’t work, so the doctor tried one last thing.

He had me hang upside down out of the chair in his office, holding on with all my might to be as still as possible. Why? Because he sat on the floor and freehanded with a laser gun, shooting the beam into my eyeball in an attempt to tack the retina back in place. For 45 minutes, every time he pulled the trigger, it felt like someone stabbing an icepick into my eye. Again, I cried out to God to help me. When it was over, I praised God out loud, and so did the doctor. It worked. I would not lose my sight.

That was one of the greatest trials of my life, but I know it pales in comparison to the trials some of you have been through. A chronic illness. The agony of cancer. The loss of a spouse, or a child. I have not suffered like you have. But one thing I know.  When Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was to be betrayed, and less than 24 hours before he would be nailed to a cross, he faced more intense internal agony and suffering than any of us will ever know.  The Gospel of Mark says he began to be “greatly distressed and troubled.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was in such distress that he sweated blood. James Edwards writes, “Nothing in all the Bible compares to Jesus’ agony and anguish in Gethsemane—neither the laments of the Psalms, nor the broken heart of Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, nor David’s grief at the death of his son Absalom.”

Why was Jesus’ soul sorrowful even to death? Was it because he knew he was going to die? No! He was not afraid to be pierced by nails and slowly lose his lifeblood in excruciating agony. His sorrow was because he was facing much more than death. Isaiah prophesied that he would be “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” Jesus was not suffering agony over the prospect of just being pierced and crushed. It was the knowledge that he would be pierced and crushed while bearing the weight of my sins, and yours. The knowledge that he would identify with sinners so completely as to become the object of God’s wrath against sin overwhelmed Jesus’ soul, and he cried out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.”

Thank God for all eternity that Jesus did not end his request there, but with “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The will of Jesus to obey the Father was stronger than his desire to serve himself, or to save himself from death. Some have said that hell came to Jesus in Gethsemane and, on the cross, he descended into it. He did that for you and for me.

I am thankful for my eyesight. But blindness would not have kept me from seeing Jesus’ face with perfect clarity on the day that is coming. Only his death and resurrection could make that possible, for all who believe in him.

Are you suffering? Jesus knows your pain, and cares.

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Mark Fox September 26, 2021
Mark Fox September 20, 2021

Faith, not Doubt, Opens Hearts and Homes

Lydia came to faith in Jesus Christ when she heard the Gospel preached by Paul, and the Lord opened her heart. She did not come to believe by doubling down on doubt. Zaccheus came to faith in Jesus Christ when the Nazarene invited the vertically-challenged tax collector to clamber down the sycamore and let the Lord come to his house. He did not stumble through doubt-clouds and somehow find his way to truth. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night, not because he doubted the veracity of Jesus’ claims, but because he wanted to understand them. Even Thomas, made famous by first doubting the rest of the disciples’ claims that Jesus was alive, did not come to believe because of his doubt. He was kept from faith for a while because of it, and when he finally did believe, he was chided by the Lord with these words: “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Do you know what Lydia did when she became a Christian? Lydia opened her home. I love that. The Lord opened her heart. And Lydia opened her home. She did not go to seminary. She did not start a ministry. She did not go on a preaching crusade. Not that any of those are bad. But Lydia opened her home. Edith Schaeffer said once, “Every Christian home is meant to have a door that swings open.”

I believe it’s one of the first and finest fruits of the Father’s followers. He opens our hearts. We open our homes. Jesus said to Zaccheus, “Come down, I’m coming over to your house for supper.” When Levi, also called Matthew, the tax collector met Jesus, what was the first thing he did? He had a party and invited all of his tax collector friends over. He opened his home to Jesus and a big pile of lost people who needed to meet the Savior.

There’s the story that is told of a South Carolina judge, Alexander Sanders, whose wife called him home one day because something terrible had happened. Their little girl’s turtle had died, and she was absolutely inconsolable. As a three year old, she just didn’t understand the ways of life and death. The judge offered to buy her another one. “No! It wouldn’t be the same one.” He tried everything, and finally said, “Well, we have to have a funeral for Carl.” She looked puzzled, so the judge told her a funeral is where they invite all of her little friends over, and have ice cream and cake and lemonade and play outside and celebrate the life of her turtle. That did it. She was very excited about that, and so she and her father started to plan the party and who to invite. Then it happened. The turtle stuck his legs out. Then his head. The father was relieved and knew his daughter would be, too. But when he looked at her expecting to see tears of joy, she said, “Daddy, let’s kill it.” What’s the moral to that story? It’s not, “kill turtles.” No. The moral is, “everybody loves a party.” So, have one. Invite doubters, skeptics, and others who don’t know Jesus.

The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. The answer is written in God’s Word. Don’t celebrate doubt. Investigate the truth. Read the Bible. Talk to someone who knows Jesus. Email me and we will have lunch. I would love to meet you and tell you why I believe.

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Mark Fox September 20, 2021
Mark Fox August 29, 2021

The GOAT Commandment

We love the GOAT question, don’t we? “Greatest of All Time.” Well, some love it. We all know that Michael Jordan is the GOAT when it comes to basketball. Don’t even start with me about LeBron. We can also talk about Tom Brady and Tiger Woods and Wayne Gretzky and Mia Hamm and Pele and Djokovic and Serena. But they all are or were great at playing a game, and the discussions about who was the greatest in their respective sports are mere mortals like you and me.

The encounter Jesus had in Mark 12 is not about a game but has to do with commandments, the laws of God. The arbiter of this discussion is not a mere mortal, a talking head on ESPN. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The one who comes to Jesus is a scribe, and it is the only friendly encounter between Jesus and the scribes in the Gospel. The scribes were considered experts in the law, not the laws of Rome, but the laws of God as found in the Torah. The scribes were the Supreme Court Justices of their day, experts in interpreting the law and rendering binding decisions on their interpretation. This man has just heard Jesus interpret Exodus 6:3 and putting the Sadducees in their place, and he was no doubt impressed. So, he comes to Jesus with a question.  It was not uncommon in those days to ask reputable teachers about the law, and to ask them their opinion on the most important of the laws. It was a favorite pastime then to debate the question, of the 613 commandments in the written and oral laws, 248 positive and 365 negative, which is the foremost of all, which laws are heavy and which laws are light? Twenty years before Jesus, the famous Rabbi Hillel summarized the Torah with a twist of the Golden Rule. He wrote, “What you would not want done to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah, everything else is interpretation.” Hmmm. That seems to give me permission to never do anything to help my neighbor; all that is required is that I don’t do anything to harm my neighbor. And here’s something else. Hillel was speaking to Jews about Jews and how Jews are supposed to live. But the question this scribe presents to Jesus is bigger than that. The question is not, “of all the commandments, which is the most important for Jews to follow,” or, which is the GOAT? The sense of the question is rather, “Which commandment supersedes everything and is incumbent on all humanity—including Gentiles?” (James Edwards)

Jesus answers, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Then he adds, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The order is important. First, we are commanded to love God. In fact, we cannot truly love our neighbor if we do not love God first. “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-20) So, love God and love your neighbor. That’s the order. But how are we to love God? The manner is important.

We are commanded to love God with all four facets of our person and personality, and Jesus lays rightful claim on each one with four “alls”:  all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and of our strength. These are not rigid divisions of our lives, but together they make up all of who we are, and each has an effect on the others. The heart is mentioned first, perhaps because it is central in loving God. Solomon wrote, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Heart and soul are different words, but both can refer to the inner part of who we are, the immaterial substance of our lives. “Soul” could be translated “spirit,” the breath of life that God breathes into man or woman to make us living beings. Our mind is our faculty of understanding and as we feed it from the Word, our love for God should grow with it. Our strength is the power we have from God to love him with our will, to act and to speak and to stand for His name’s sake. Jesus says in effect to you and me, “All of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength belong to me. Love me with them, and when you do, you will also love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus lifted these ancient laws out of the mire of tradition and legalism and made them live in the hearts of men and women who know him.

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Mark Fox August 29, 2021
Mark Fox August 22, 2021

Go Gossip the Gospel

When Paul entered Athens in the first century and saw it was a city filled with idols, he didn’t turn around and walk out. Neither did he go to the city square with a sign that said, “God hates Athens.” No, he reasoned with the people there, in three very different arenas.

First, he went into the synagogue and reasoned with the devout. The equivalent today would be the church, which was and is the first and best place to reason with people. The decay of our culture is largely a product of the impotence of the church and its compromise of the message of the Gospel. Pastors possessed with a low view of Scripture and a high need for numbers plus members infatuated with a “makes-me-happy-and-meets-my needs” fellowship has largely neutered the effectiveness of the church in America. Paul “was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” to the God-fearers. That must be the foundation of our message from the pulpit every week as we teach the Scriptures to a people starving for the Word of God. Otherwise, what really is the point?

Second, Paul went into the city square and spoke with “those who happened to be there.” He was as comfortable in church as he was in the marketplace. Not everybody is, but we need people who can make friends and meet people in the park, at the mall, in the movie theater, the Laundromat, the coffee shop and in every place life happens. Howard Schultz said his goal in creating Starbucks was to provide a place and an environment where people would be forced into community with each other. Cindy and I were in the Sherlock Holmes pub in London a few years ago, enjoying fish and chips, and the couple next to us was speaking “American.” So, we struck up a conversation with them and had fellowship for a half hour. It’s amazing what people will tell you about themselves if you just ask a question. When that happens, you have an open door to gossip the Gospel with someone who five minutes earlier was a stranger.

Third, Paul went to the Areopagus to speak to the intelligentsia. Had Aldous Huxley been a Greek living in Athens then, he would have been there. He was honest enough to write in 1937 about why he objected to the world having meaning and purpose: “For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”  Get that? “Don’t let faith get in the way of how you live your life.” We need young people  who can answer that argument, not only in the public schools or on the university campus, but in every area of life.

The late John Stott wrote, “There is an urgent need for more Christian thinkers who will dedicate their minds to Christ, not only as lecturers, but also as authors, journalists, dramatists and broadcasters, as television script-writers, and as artists and actors who use a variety of contemporary art forms in which to communicate the Gospel…Christ calls human beings to humble, but not to stifle, their intellect.”

Hey, college students just arrived on campus, high school students, and all others reading this column: How can you use what God has given you to serve him and make his name great? It doesn’t have to be big or important. You do not have to be famous or rich or powerful or brilliant. Simply use the talent and ability and intellect God has given you for his sake. Share the truth in the church, in the marketplace, and on the campus. Because, with all due respect to academics and philosophers and Christless religion, what the world needs now is not a sloppy kiss of “I accept you just the way you are,” but the life-saving truth that is only found in Jesus Christ.

Go gossip the Gospel.

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Mark Fox August 22, 2021
Mark Fox August 9, 2021

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

Why does the Bible instruct the followers of God to give? It is not because God needs our money. He owns everything and has no need. He even said, “If I needed anything, I wouldn’t ask you!” It is also not because the church needs it. The church does need the people who are a part of it to give, but it is sustained by God. No, the reason why we are called on to give is so that we will learn to be like the giver, God himself. Paul wrote two chapters of his second letter to the Corinthian church to urge them to give generously. The centerpiece of his argument is this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” God gave more than we could ever imagine and certainly ever repay when he gave his Son to the world as a sacrifice for sin. Will we learn to love like that through our own giving? Will we also learn to do so cheerfully? Because here’s an interesting truth from Scripture: God loves a cheerful giver.

A little girl was given a dollar and a quarter by her mom on the way to church. She was told she could put either one in the offering plate and keep the other. On the way home the mom asked what she gave. The little girl said, “I was going to give the dollar but right before the offering the preacher said God loves a cheerful giver, and I knew I would be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter.” I don’t think that is exactly what Paul had in mind. But wait. What does that mean, “God loves a cheerful giver?” God loves everybody, right? So why did Paul say this? I was praying about that last week, and my mind went to Jesus’ words, “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship him.” God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth. God loves a cheerful giver. If God seeks worshippers if God loves cheerful givers, I want to be found by him doing just that. That requires a commitment of the will, but it also requires faith.

Giving is an act of faith in God’s abundant provision. Therefore, most give sparsely or not at all. If they were able to be honest about it, they would have to say, “I am afraid if I do this, I will not have enough.” A pastor said to one of his members who happened to be a farmer, “Brother Bill, if you had $1000, would you give the church $500?” Bill said, “You know I would, pastor.” Then the pastor said, “If you had two pigs, would you give the church one of them?” Bill replied, “That’s not fair, pastor! You know I have two pigs!”

It’s easy to sing “Take My Life and Let it Be,” and even the verse that says, “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold…” but it is much harder to live that song.  It requires faith. And obedience.

How about you? Are you learning to love like God does through faithful and cheerful giving?

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Mark Fox August 9, 2021
Mark Fox August 1, 2021

This Is Sweeter than Revenge

The story goes that a houseboy was hired by a group of American soldiers during a war to take care of their needs. The soldiers liked this young man, but they tormented him mercilessly. They nailed his shoes to the floor while he slept. They put grease on the stove handles, and mounted a bucket of water over the door so that he got drenched when he walked in. Through it all, however, he never complained. He just went about his work, and smiled, and seemed to take it all in stride. One day the soldiers began to feel guilty, so they called him in to apologize. “We want to stop all our pranks, and tell you we are sorry,” they said. “We won’t do it again.”

 

“No more nails in my shoes?” the houseboy asked.

“No more,” the men promised.

“No more sticky on the stove?”

“No more,” they said.

“No more water on my head?”

“No more,” they answered.

“OK,” said the houseboy. “No more spit in your soup!”

Ahh, revenge. It comes to us quite easily, doesn’t it? Francis Bacon said, “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” Lord Byron said, “Revenge is sweet.”

The late financial counselor, Larry Burkett, used to tell the story of the man who bought a Mercedes for $50. He was looking in the L.A. Times classified section one day and saw an ad for a nearly new Mercedes for $50. Sure that it was a misprint, he called the number and the woman assured him that the car really was for sale for that price. He told her be would be right over, and set a new land speed record getting to her house. Expecting to find a problem but hoping against hope that this was not a dream, the man discovered a shiny new Mercedes, in mint condition, in the woman’s driveway. He quickly wrote her a check for $50 before she could change her mind, and when she handed him the keys, he said, “Do you mind me asking why you are selling this car for this price?” She said, “Not at all. My husband decided he didn’t want to be married to me any more, and he left me for another woman. He called two days ago and said we would divide everything up and told me to sell the Mercedes and send him half.”

Ahh, revenge. It just seems to feel right, doesn’t it?  The problem is, many things that feel right are deadly wrong. Revenge may feel great going down, but you pay for it later. Getting revenge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Jesus made it clear how I am to respond when someone hurts me. If I have been offended, I am instructed to go to the person who sinned against me and tell him what he did. Just the two of us, face to face. Jesus said, “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” That’s the goal, that our relationship would be restored, not that I get my pound of flesh. If he will not listen, then I get a trusted and mature friend and go back to him. Just the 3 of us, face to face. If he still will not listen, then I go before the church leadership with the problem. In every step, restoration is the destination, and forgiveness, not revenge, is the vehicle that will get you there.

A restored friendship is much sweeter than revenge could ever be. If you don’t believe it, call me when you want to sell your Mercedes.

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Mark Fox August 1, 2021
Mark Fox July 19, 2021

Sixty Reasons Why I Love Her

Ten years ago, I wrote a column titled “Fifty reasons why I love her,” in honor of my wife’s 50th birthday. Today I add ten more reasons why I love my best friend, Cindy, as we are just days away from another milestone. You can count them if you like, but trust me, there are sixty. The verse fragments that are mixed in come from 1 Corinthians 13, the J. B. Phillips translation.

She is beautiful. In fact, Cindy is the best looking sixty-year-old I know. Her smile lights up a room and warms my heart. She has a great sense of humor, evidenced by the fact that she laughs at my jokes. Many people don’t (have a great sense of humor). She loves our 7 children and was their primary teacher for more than 30 years. Cindy is a great grandmother…or, a grandmother who is great. She loves to Facetime with our daughter and three granddaughters in Kansas. She keeps our five local grandchildren every Wednesday so that our sweet daughter-in-law can get a break. She cares for needs in the church, is the women’s ministry director at Antioch and excels in her work.  Not easily offended, she looks for ways to overlook it when others do her wrong. Cindy sings or hums when she is happy, and sometimes when she is not. She went to Carolina, and though she doesn’t care about the teams like I do, she still cares…some. A little. Cindy helps me with my writing (except this column and the one ten years ago), and sometimes with my sermons. She is a great listener. She is able to give tough love when needed, and sadly I need it way too often. She is quick to forgive. Cindy reads voraciously but eats carefully. She is intentional about making sure her husband eats healthy, too. She loves good music, loves Holden Beach, and loves to go on long walks with me. Cindy does not notice when others do her wrong. She is slow to lose patience.

Cindy will cry during sad movies and laugh out loud until it hurts during funny ones. She is particular about keeping a clean house…but this does not paralyze her from having people over for a meal and good fellowship around the table. Cindy goes on a weekly date with me, and Saturday morning breakfast has become our favorite. We go right after ballroom; yep, I have been stepping on her toes for three years as I slowly learn to look like I am doing the waltz. Or the Cha-Cha. Cindy has good friends she loves and keeps up with. Her wonderful alto voice harmonizes beside me every Sunday morning. She has overcome her fear of public speaking, though it would not be in her top 60 things to do on her sixtieth. Cindy is faithful to pray when someone asks for it, and she does not keep an account of evil. She shares the joy of those who live by the truth.

Cindy is shorter than I am, which comes in handy on the rare occasion when we slow dance at wedding receptions. She loves hot tea, any time of day or night. She also enjoys her favorite coffee shops in town. Cindy keeps a clean house, and a clean heart. She studies her Bible faithfully and lives by what she learns there every day. She keeps up with more podcasts than anyone I know, always eager to learn from others. Cindy has a heart to give to those in need and is willing to go overseas on mission trips with me. She looks forward to the slower pace in the summer, and enjoys picking fresh fruit with her children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren at local farms. Cindy is not anxious to impress, nor does she cherish inflated ideas of her own importance.

Cindy runs three times a week to stay in shape and has run several 5K races. A few years ago, she ran her first half marathon. Cindy stands by me even when others are looking for places to hide. She loves to worship and loves Jesus more than anyone or anything.

Cindy is my best friend and after all these years, she is still my baby girl. Happy birthday, darling.

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Mark Fox July 19, 2021