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
Mark Fox July 4, 2021

It’s All in the Follow-Through

How many times have you wanted to do the right thing, but you did not do it? You thought about it. You even decided, “Yes, I will do this.” Then the thought fades, the desire dries up, and the next thing you know it is a week later and you remember the desire you had and wonder why you never followed through. “Oh well,” you think. “Maybe this week.”

Follow through. It’s the key step in anything, isn’t it? You have a desire to grow in your knowledge of the Bible? Follow through and read it. You have a desire to be faithful to the local church? Follow through and go. You have a desire to really be a good listener when your spouse wants your attention? Follow through and put the phone (book, newspaper, remote, game controller, whatever) down and listen! You have a desire to be generous in your giving to God’s work? Follow through and give. Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth about giving: “So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have.” In other words, follow through, church! As the saying goes, “Crying babies and good intentions ought to be carried out immediately.” As Vance Havner said, “Don’t be a son or daughter of ‘I will arise.'” The prodigal son is not famous because he had a desire to repent but never followed through. Interestingly, the prodigal son came home for the very same reason that faithful Christians give: because he knew the father first loved him. Alistair Begg said, “It is ultimately what we know of God that stirs our heart to the necessity of generous giving.” Do we know God in such a way that has freed us up to give ourselves and our money generously to Him?

I realized long ago that men are particularly prone to suffer this malady: “If I have thought about it, and agreed that it is a good thing, that’s the same as doing it.” I know women probably do this too, but I don’t have the same sample size on that research. But men do it. A lot. For example, I have thought about being a bold proclaimer of the Gospel with the person in the checkout line, even sometimes to the point that I think I have done it. Often. The truth is, I have done it in my mind 1000 times for every one time I have actually opened my mouth to speak. Here’s another, more personal example. I have realized many times when Cindy and I are having a heart to heart that though I thought I had my FOMO under control and that I really didn’t look at my phone that much when I was around her, that, NOPE. I had to check my bags on Reality Airlines and admit to her, and mostly to myself, that it was a problem. So, I made the promise, again…and told her I might need help and I might go through withdrawals…but that I would put my phone and iPad away when I get home from work, and only check once before bed for urgent messages that need a reply. I still need help with follow-through on that one, I have to confess.

Are you giving? Faithfully and generously to God’s work? If not, then it will take an action plan. Just as I decided to take action with technology, you can begin to take action with your giving. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

What action do you need to take in order to become a faithful giver?  It’s all in the follow-through.

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Mark Fox July 4, 2021
Mark Fox June 14, 2021

Churches Must Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Perhaps you have heard the old story of the pastor who was asked by a friend visiting from out of town, “How is your church doing?” The pastor said, “Oh, poorly. Very poorly. But, praise the Lord, none of the other churches in the area are doing any better than we are!”  It is sad but true that there is often a competitive spirit among churches. Sometimes even marketing strategies are employed in an attempt to lure members away from one fellowship and into another. Part of that can be explained as old-fashioned, selfish greed. If the culture buys the lie that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” then the church can buy into it as well, and just substitute pew-sitters for toys. But the danger is that in the midst of trying to build a huge enterprise, we can easily lose sight of what the church is really supposed to be.  A huge church can fail just like a small church can fail, by losing its vision and sense of purpose. A tiny church can be a booming success by keeping the main thing the main thing: God and His glory.

Oh, dear people, you must remember this: the church is not a business venture. It has purposes that go way beyond widgets and sales charts and daily averages. The church is not a college. It boasts of results that the greatest college president in the world cannot even dream of attaining. The church is not here today and nearly gone tomorrow, like Pier 1 Imports or Pacific Electric and Gas. The church is not in danger of losing its relevance to the culture, like those who built gramophones or who designed eight-track tape technology. Despite the Richard Dawkins delusions and those of other modern atheists, the church is here to stay because its builder is from everlasting to everlasting. Which begs the question: how can anyone who knows Christ have convinced himself that a Christian doesn’t need the church? As if the body and the head can be separated, and that’s ok?

The amazing truth from Scripture says it plainly: the church is the body of Christ, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” No business, no college, no political party, no institution of any kind can make that claim. Christ is the head of the church. And the church displays the fullness of Christ to the earth. We cheapen the purpose and the calling of the church when we market it. We bring dishonor to the name of Christ when we compete with one another or when we run the latest gimmick to try to fill the church. God fills it. I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in trying to do something only God can do. In the first place, it is foolish because I simply cannot build the church. In the second place, it is deadly for anyone to think that he can and to say something like, “Excuse me, Lord, but I need to help you with your church. Step aside and watch this, God.”

How is the church doing? It seems like we are losing the battle. It looks like we need to resort to gimmicks and marketing in order to draw a crowd. It appears that the church is irrelevant and needs to give in and give up. That’s only because we are looking around or looking down. Look up! Look at the head of the church, Jesus Christ, and be encouraged. He has already won.

Want to hear more about the church of the living God, which is the very body of Christ? If you do not have a church home, come join us this Sunday and for the next 7 weeks to see what the Bible says about His body.

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Mark Fox June 14, 2021
Mark Fox May 24, 2021

The Heart of the Matter is the Matter of the Heart

Perhaps you heard about the two churches that were struggling, losing members, having trouble paying the bills, getting discouraged. Since they were right across the street from one another, they began to have discussions about merging, joining forces, fighting and loving and praying and working together. The two congregations began to have covered dish suppers, the leaders from both churches began to meet together on a regular basis, and then finally the day came when they had a worship service…together! It started off wonderfully. Folks were intermingled so that each pew had people from both churches represented in it. When they were told to “greet one another,” there was electricity in the air as people hugged and shook hands and celebrated the unity they felt with the folks that had previously been referred to as “that church across the street.”

Then it happened. One of the pastors got up to lead the morning prayer, and ended it with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, asking everyone to join him. The folks from the south side of the street said, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Those from the church on the north side said, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” There was an embarrassing silence when the prayer was done. The pastor who led the prayer happened to be on the debtor side, and he wasn’t sure how to proceed, so he tried to make a joke out of it, saying something like, “Well, I guess we need to put up a ‘no trespassing’ sign in the building, heh, heh…um…OK, let’s all turn in our hymnals to page 232…” The service limped along to its conclusion, but the wind was out of the sails. There was a mechanical nature to the rest of the worship, a half-hearted listening to the sermon, which, ironically enough, was from the text, “Let each of you look out not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When it was over, the people filed out, went home, and gave up on the idea of a merge. The newspaper reported that the one church went back to its debts, and the other back to its trespasses!

Then there was the story of the two unmarried sisters who lived together. There came a disagreement one day over an insignificant issue, and they stopped speaking to one another. Each was unwilling to move out, so they stayed together in a tiny house. They ate at the same table, at different times, and slept in the same bedroom. One of the sisters drew a line with chalk down the middle and it was understood that each sister was to stay on her side of the room, never to touch the other. The sisters would come and go, eat and sew, read and do hand-work, without ever once speaking a word to the other. This grinding silence went on for years because neither was willing to take the first step towards reconciliation.

I love the book of James in the Bible. I believe he would answer these churches and these sisters by going right to the heart of the matter. He says, “But what about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting desires for pleasure within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it…you only want to satisfy your own desires.” (JB Phillips translation)

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. That’s the source of our conflicts.

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Mark Fox May 24, 2021
Mark Fox May 9, 2021

God’s Refrigerator Art of Motherhood

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?” She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”

On this Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.

In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.

In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.

A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers—my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.

In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently, Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious to a mother than genuine faith? Timothy, who would become the most dependable companion of the Apostle Paul, learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee.  She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.

Consider Susanna Wesley who was the youngest of twenty-five children and who gave birth to nineteen herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children! As each child turned five, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures. “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.”

“If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”

I am thankful for the mother who raised me and for the wife and mother I love and live with. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully in the high calling of motherhood. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.

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Mark Fox May 9, 2021
Mark Fox April 21, 2021

Don’t Be in the Two Percent

I was intrigued by the article on the front page of the Times-News a few years ago. It was about church attendance in North Carolina in general and Alamance County in particular. One thing that made me laugh out loud was the pie chart that measured church attendance in our state. Forty percent of us in the Tar Heel state report that we attend church weekly. Twenty-four percent say they go nearly weekly, or monthly. Maybe that means they go weakly. Thirty-four percent never or seldom go. None of those numbers provoked laughter, only a groan or a sigh. But then I saw the tiny sliver in the very top of the pie chart, representing two percent of the people in North Carolina who don’t know if they attended church or not. Now, that is funny.

There are a lot of things that I don’t know if I did last year. I don’t know if I rode a bicycle more than once. I don’t know if I skipped a rock across a pond. I probably did; I just don’t remember. I don’t know if I played golf three times or two. I don’t know if I stayed up past midnight even once. I don’t know if I played a card game. There are many more, but you get the drift. The things I am not sure I did are just not that important to me. But I know whether I went to a funeral, a wedding, or a church service. How can someone not know that? Clearly because going to church is not something that is important to them, not just to the two-percenters, but to the growing majority of people in our city and state.

You need a reason to go to church? “And He (God) put all things under His (Jesus’) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” The church is the sum and substance of God’s plan for the world. Jesus rules over kings and governments and scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs and demonic powers and the powers of nature and universities and religions and the Milky Way and the galaxies that He has flung throughout the universe. He rules over everything that we do know about and He rules over everything we don’t know about. And the One who rules over everything we know about and everything we don’t yet know about is the head of the church.

Alistair Begg tells the story of John Reith, the first director of the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was a tall man, six feet six, an intimidating figure who had big bushy eyebrows that he liked to peer through as he looked at you. But early in his tenure as director, he saw some of his employees huddled together, whispering about something. Later that day Reith called one of them to his office and asked what the group had been discussing. The young man said, “Oh, we were talking about how to produce a radio program that will be a fitting burial for the Christian faith. It’s time for that nonsense to be put to rest.” Standing up and towering over the young man, a red-faced John Reith looked through bushy eyebrows and growled, “The church will stand over the BBC’s grave one day!” And it will.

I want to invite the two-percenters to join us for worship. If for no other reason, at least you will know that you went to church in 2021.

See you Sunday.

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Mark Fox April 21, 2021