Mark Fox August 3, 2020

He Looked Past my Weakness and Chose Me Anyway

I remember it like it was yesterday. It is my 4th grade class with Mrs. Wade, and time for recess. Every day, it is the same. When the teacher announces recess, I am at once fearful and elated, excited and filled with dread at the same time. Why? I am excited and elated because I get to go outside and play, one of my passions even to this day. I am fearful and filled with dread because I am one of the smallest boys in the class, and I know that recess means kickball. I know that kickball means that the two biggest boys in the class will announce that they are captains and start choosing their teams. The girls will stand off to the side and giggle as the boys make their selections from among the rest of us young pre-pubescent males who are standing there, trying to look tough and athletic. Not me. I am standing behind a row of taller boys and occupying my full attention by gazing at my right foot. Anyone who is observing this whole scene would have to write in his notes: “The short, skinny kid, Fox, is staring at his right tennis shoe like it’s his job. What is going on with him?”

What is going on is that I know what will happen. Every single boy on that field will be chosen until there are two left, me and this other little kid named Albert. Then the two self-appointed captains will argue over who gets me and who gets Albert. The girls on the sideline, in the meantime, are whispering to each other and giggling into their hands. I am dying. The selection process is finally over, and the game begins, and I can relax a little, and just try to not make my team lose.

When Jesus came to his hometown to preach for the first time after his ministry had begun, he opened the Old Testament to Isaiah and read a passage about the coming Messiah that included this statement: “He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” This is not an economic designation, this word for ‘poor.’ Rather, it is a word that describes “those who for any number of reasons were relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people.” Jesus came to preach to people who knew they were outside of God’s boundaries (all of us are) and who knew they were lost and needed a Savior (all of us do). He came to reach the human race, which comes in many colors, many nationalities, many socio-economic backgrounds, and he alone can do that. He alone has the answers we need for origin, identity, and purpose. He alone has answers for suffering and sin and salvation. Rebecca McLaughlin writes in her book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, “Jesus claims rule over all of heaven and earth. He presents himself not as one possible path to God, but as God himself. We may choose to disbelieve him. But he cannot be one truth among many. He has not left us that option.”

I am back on the kickball field, and I expect to be picked last. In terms of size and skill, I am poor, outside the boundaries of those who would be included in the athletic category. And then one of the captains overlooks a whole row of bigger, stronger boys who are smug in their expectation of being chosen. He finds me through the crowd, standing on the back row, looking at my feet, preparing myself to deal with the shame of being picked last or next to last. And he says, “I’ll take Mark.”

Of course, it never happened to me in kickball, I still got picked last, but it did happen to me with the Lord. God looked past all my sinful pride, rebellion, and spiritual poverty and said, “I’ll take Mark.”

He offers good news to the poor, to the least likely, to the lowly. He opens his arms to people like you and me.

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Mark Fox August 3, 2020
Mark Fox July 27, 2020

How do we make important decisions?

A young lady was sunbathing on the beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question, but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” 
Then he asked her, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” 
Again, her answer was, “Yes!” 
He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray every day?” 
Again she said, “Yes,” but now her curiosity was very much aroused. 
The little boy sighed with relief and said, “Will you hold my money while I go swimming?”

Now there’s a wise little boy. He wants to go swimming, but he also wants to keep his money. We see him struggle through the process of making a decision about whether this stranger on the beach is a truth-teller. That’s what it came down to, for him: truth. It wasn’t enough for him that the woman claimed to believe in God. He was looking for proof, for fruit. His cross-examination was his way of trying to find the truth. That’s crucial for every one of us in every decision we make. What is the truth? And is there supporting evidence for that truth?

There is a great model for us in Scripture for how to make decisions. The almost-leaders of the nearly-born first church had a meeting as they waited for God to send the Holy Spirit. They were faced with an important decision they had to make: how should they replace Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus and then hanged himself? Here’s what they did.

First, they looked to Scripture. They believed the Word was clear that Judas had to be replaced so the eleven would again become the Twelve. This twelve would provide a foundation for the new church, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

Second, they used their common sense in order to put forward two candidates. If this man was going to replace Judas and be like the rest of them, he had to have the same qualifications they did. He had to have been with Jesus from his baptism through to his ascension. Maybe these two candidates were the only pair among the 120 who fulfilled the qualifications. Maybe there were many men who met the qualifications, but the eleven believed these two were the best candidates. I would love to know, but we are not told. So, they chose two, Joseph and Matthias.

Third, they asked Jesus to decide. That’s essentially what they did, because they cast lots, praying, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen…”  Now before you run out and buy some lots to cast, there are a couple of things you should know. One, we have no idea, really, what lots were. I think you could substitute a pair of dice here and be fine. But there’s something else you need to know. There is no record of the leaders of the church ever again making a decision by ‘casting lots.’ The reason is simple: God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in His people, to teach us, to give us assurance of salvation, and to lead us.

How do we make important decisions, then? We turn to the Scriptures, which is the truth. We use common sense. We pray. And by the way, you can’t skip the first and third and think you can rely on the second. Common sense that is not grounded in Scripture and bathed in prayer is nonsense.

Finally, would you be someone trustworthy enough to hold onto that little boy’s money?

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Mark Fox July 27, 2020
Mark Fox July 19, 2020

“I’ll Be Ready When the Time Comes”

On the living room wall in Ethel Washington Braddy’s house in Winston-Salem, NC, there’s a large picture of her teacher and schoolmates from sometime around 1915. She is the only one still alive. Ethel has outlived her husband by more than sixty-two years. Only two of her seven children are still here, including Dilcy at 84, her oldest child who lives with and takes care of her mother. Ethel has lived through two World Wars, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the Gulf War and the continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She turned 106 on September 5th, and as she told me when I interviewed her a few weeks before her birthday, “I ain’t had no bad times in this life. All my life has been good to me. I asked the Lord to take care of me, and I am just thanking Him for what He has done.”

Ethel was born in a log cabin on Bethabara Rd. in 1907 and has lived on the property ever since. Her father later bought a house from their family doctor who told him that if he would take the house apart and move it, he could have it for $25. That’s what he did. He set it up right in front of the original home, and when Ethel got married and started having children, her parents moved out of the main house and back into the log cabin.

If there is a constant theme in Ethel’s memory of her childhood and young adulthood, it’s hard work.

“Mama didn’t have time to learn me because of how hard she was working,” Ethel said. When I asked her what child-rearing advice she would offer to parents today, she did not hesitate.

“I would give them the same advice that was given me. Mama told me when I started out to work, ‘Behave yourself. Keep your hands to yourself. And do what they tell you to do.’” That’s very close to what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” Ethel later added this advice for parents: “My mama and daddy taught me when I made a piece of money how to save it. Even now, when anybody gives me a piece of money, I go to the bank. I don’t spend everything I have. I don’t buy everything I see, or that I want.”

She has fond memories of setting rabbit traps with her children and enjoying a rabbit stew later. And of going with her family to Piney Grove Baptist Church. “I still go every Sunday!” When I asked Ethel how she got through times of suffering, at first she couldn’t think of any time in her life that was hard. Then she remembered that when her husband was hospitalized and near death in 1951, she would go to visit him in the horse and wagon. “We had a car, too,” she said. “But I couldn’t drive it.”

I told Ethel that sometimes broken relationships take a toll and can even shorten our lives if we tend to hold onto bitterness. She said, “I got along with everybody.” When I asked her how, she said, “When someone hurts my feelings, I give it to the Lord.”

As the interview drew to a close, I asked Ethel what she is looking look forward to. She looked up at me and smiled in her pretty red dress that she made herself and said, “Going to heaven.” She paused for a moment and said, “When I get lonesome sometimes, I say, ‘Father, I stretch my hand to Thee, no other help I know.’”

Then she said, “I’ll be ready when the time comes.”

I wrote this column about Ethel in 2013. She was ready when the Lord called her home three years later, at 109 years of age.

I look forward to seeing her again.

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Mark Fox July 19, 2020
Mark Fox July 13, 2020

Live Quietly, Mind your Own Business, and Work Hard

I know that many are out of work now, and I pray that the unemployment numbers will fall back to the pre-Covid percentages soon. But whether we are fully employed, half-employed, or even unemployed, God has called us to work and to a work ethic that reveals character. A study in the book of Ruth is so many things, but on one level it is a picture of diligence and initiative. When Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, she was an alien in a foreign land, and a widow. Her only connection in the nation of Israel, her new home, was Naomi, who was also a widow. That did not deter Ruth in the least from taking the initiative to go out and glean in the fields, so that she and her mother-in-law could eat. It was her diligence that caught the eye of the foreman of the field she “happened upon,” and that work ethic was reported to Boaz, the landowner: “She has continued (to work) from early morning until now,” the foreman said, “except for a short rest.”

A companion piece to this encouragement to work hard can be found in the New Testament in the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul encourages the church to do three things. First, live quietly. Why not forget the foolish notion that to be useful you have to be noticed? Why not decide that letting the world know through social media what we think about everything is a waste of time? Second, mind your own business. If we try to mind ours and others, we make messes of both. Third, work with your hands. The result is a good testimony with outsiders.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a summer job working in a factory at RJR Tobacco Company in my hometown. There were other college kids like me working, and one stands out in my memory, but not because of his diligence. His motto must have been, “Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down.” His job was to paint the guardrails in the factory, the ones that separated the floor where the forklifts roamed freely, and the walkways around the perimeter. The rails were probably eight inches in diameter, and metal. He painted them yellow. With a brush. Lying down. Moving. His. Arm. Very. Slowly.

“I thought the boy was dead for a while there.” That was the comment of one seasoned veteran of Factory 51. I’ll call him Salty. He spit tobacco juice into the empty Pepsi can he was holding and shook his head with disgust. “I tell you what.” (This is a complete sentence in the South). Salty continued, as the others in the break room nodded, “If that was my boy, I would wear him out. He wouldn’t be too old to spank in my house I can tell you right now. That boy is pathetic.”

Just as an aside, you may have figured out that this salty character from my past was not known for his timidity. His motto may have been, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” One day another man was complaining about his dog to the rest of us in the break room. “You want to know how crazy my dog is?” he asked. “When people ring the doorbell, he doesn’t bark. When they come inside and sit down to visit, he doesn’t make a peep or do a thing. But when they get up to leave, he bites them!” Most of us just laughed and shook our heads at the idea. Not Salty. He squinted at the dog owner and said with every ounce of sincerity, “You ought to shoot that dog.”

Well, the point is that whether you agree with Salty’s child training or his dog whispering, he was greatly offended by the college boy’s approach to work. If the college boy was a Christian, his testimony among outsiders was a lousy one.

It’s good advice: live quietly, mind your own business, and work hard.

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Mark Fox July 13, 2020
Mark Fox July 6, 2020

The Dangers of Wrong Judgment

“I knew he was too proud to take criticism,” thought Anne, “and now I have proof!”

On the previous Sunday, Anne had dropped a prayer card in the offering plate asking her pastor to stop in and pray with her when she went to the hospital for some minor surgery. When he failed to come by, she called the church secretary and learned that her pastor had already been to the hospital that day to see another church member.

“So, he has no excuse!” she thought. “He was in the building and knew I needed his support, but still he ignored me. He’s resented me ever since I told him his sermons lack practical application. Now he’s                                                                                                                                               getting back at me by ignoring my spiritual needs.                                                                                                                                           And he calls himself a shepherd!”

After brooding over his rejection for three days, Anne sat down Saturday evening and wrote a letter confronting her pastor about his pride, defensiveness and hypocrisy. As she sealed the envelope, she could not help thinking about the conviction he would feel when he opened his mail.

The moment she walked into church the next morning, one of the deacons hurried over to her. “Anne, I need to apologize to you. When I took the prayer cards out of the offering plates last week, I accidentally left your card with some pledge cards. I didn’t notice my mistake until last night when I was totaling the pledges. I am so sorry I didn’t get your request to the pastor!” Before Anne could reply to the deacon, her pastor approached her with a warm smile. “Anne, I was thinking about your comment about practical application as I finished my sermon yesterday. I hope you notice the difference in today’s message.”

Anne was speechless. All she could think about was the letter she had just dropped in a mailbox three blocks from church.  (Ken Sande, Peacemaker Ministries)

Been there? I think we all have, because it is so easy to judge what we cannot see, the heart, based on what we can see, the actions. I have done it many times. I remember the time years ago when I saw our dog’s food bowl turned over and the contents spilled all over the front porch. In my anger and without clear evidence, I disciplined one of my sons for it…only to find out later that the mess-maker was actually the dog. Ouch. I was the one who needed the discipline, which the Lord so kindly administered as I quickly and sincerely asked my son for forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean that there are not times when one of the children really did make a mess or tell a lie or take something without asking. Judgment and discernment are necessary and we use them every single day. The issue then is how we judge. We are so prone to looking for and expecting the worst. We employ the “shoot first, ask questions later” method. We collect debts on someone who has offended us and wait for the right moment to let them have it.

 

There is a better way, and Jesus said it simply: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This means that we will look for the best in others. We will ask questions long before we reach for our guns. We will refuse to keep a list of grievances. We will take the first step towards peace.

Just like Jesus did for us.

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Mark Fox July 6, 2020
Mark Fox June 29, 2020

Broken by Forgiveness

In the nation of Kenya, prejudice does not run along racial lines, but from tribe to tribe. When Stakwell Yurenimo, a Samburu in northern Kenya, did well on his 8th grade exams, the Kenyan government informed him that he had qualified to go to a high school that they would choose. They also chose his roommate, a young man named Paul, who was a member of the enemy tribe, the Turkana. Stakwell determined in his mind that there was no way he would room with a Turkana. In fact, part of his culture demanded that in order to be respected as a man, he needed to kill a Turkana. Stakwell poured water on Paul’s bed every night so that his roommate was forced to sleep somewhere else. Paul did not react in anger, but slept on the ground without complaint. This went on for several months. Meanwhile, there was friction on the soccer field as well. Stakwell was an excellent midfielder. Paul was the team’s star forward, a striker with considerable skill. But the team kept losing because Stakwell would not pass the ball to his roommate. The coach finally confronted Stakwell, who told the coach that there was nothing he could do. “You will just have to put one of us on another team,” he said. That’s what the coach did, and the first time the two teams played each other, Stakwell threw himself into Paul, trying his best to kill him. He broke Paul’s leg and knocked out several teeth. Because it was an intentional penalty, Stakwell was expelled from school, and sent home a hero to his fellow Samburu tribesmen for injuring a hated Turkana. He did not care about being expelled, but then the school told Stakwell that he would have to repay Paul for all of his medical expenses. Stakwell, a Samburu shepherd, faced an insurmountable debt. That’s when his life changed.

Paul came to Stakwell offering forgiveness. He did not want to be paid back. Paul explained that all the time his roommate was persecuting him, he did not retaliate, “not because I am weak, but because I am a Christian. When you were pouring water on my bed and forcing me to sleep on the ground, I was praying for you,” Paul said. Stakwell’s heart was broken by this demonstration of the Gospel. He became a Christian, and after finishing high school and attending Bible School, he began to work to bring reconciliation between the two warring tribes, the Samburu and the Turkana.

With the help of New Directions International in Graham (now Feed the Hunger), Stakwell opened a Sports Camp in the Kurungu, Kenya region. He brings hundreds of young people together three times a year for friendly competition. More than a dozen tribes are represented at the camps, and the ministry is changing the climate of the region. Stakwell told us as a group from our church visited with him several years ago, “There has not been one killing in the past two years between the Samburu and the Turkana.” There is even a Turkana village now in the Samburu region, something that would have been unheard of just a decade ago. 

Being at the camp with Stakwell and his family, which includes seven children they rescued from abandonment, gave our mission team a picture in living color of what is only possible through the power of God. For He “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Stakwell Yurenimo, the Samburu warrior once committed to destroy the Turkana, was broken by the forgiveness shown to him by a Turkana follower of Jesus Christ. Now he lives to help others find that forgiveness as well.

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Mark Fox June 29, 2020
Mark Fox June 22, 2020

Family Memories and Father’s Day Blessings

I wrote this column in 2011, and thought it was worth repeating in this space today. The kids are older now, 35 down to almost 21, and there are eight grandchildren!

I was running last Saturday, listening to a teaching for fathers as I pounded the country pavement. Todd Wilson was talking to 500 men at a recent conference about the privileges of fatherhood. He said, “Whatever your job is, whether you are a welder, an engineer, or a pastor, the truth is that if you were to die today, someone would be in your place on the job by Monday morning, most likely. How long would it take to replace you? Not very.” Then he said, “But how long would it take to replace you as a father? The fact is, you are irreplaceable. No one could replace you.” Then he laughed and said, “Actually, someone would step into your shoes as a father to your children. God. Have you ever thought about that? You are Plan A in your house. God is your backup. That’s how important the job of the father is.”

As I listened and ran, the thought occurred to me that I should give my children a gift for Father’s Day. I thought about Paul’s words of affection for his “spiritual children” at the church in Thessalonica, when he wrote to them “You are our glory and joy.” I thought about how blessed I am to have seven children who are all grown up, mostly, and who love the Lord, love their parents, and have a vision for spending their lives in the service of the One who bought them. So, when I got back to the house, I sat down to the task of writing an email to each one of them, thanking them for who they are and for the ways I see them growing in the Lord. I also asked each one to forgive me for the many times I blew it as a dad, using anger as a ‘carving tool’ to get them to do what I wanted. The last thing I want in my life is to grow old while the affection of my children grows cold. Todd said that no father he has ever heard of has said on his deathbed, “Go get my set of golf clubs and lay them next to me. I want to feel close to them one last time.” No, a blessed man will be surrounded by his wife and children and grandchildren, the ones who matter most in this life, as he walks into the next.

On Father’s Day, we enjoyed two kinds of dessert in the living room last Sunday afternoon after lunch. Between bites of blueberry cheesecake and double-chocolate cake, we talked about family, fatherhood, and childhood memories. All seven children were there, and both grandsons. Besides that, we had the added benefit of having Micah’s father-in-law, Woody, and 5 of his six children in our home. The twelve “children” are all grown up now, the youngest being almost 12 years old. One by one, they shared memories of their childhood, of the things they learned from their fathers, while Woody and I took turns weeping. They also shared funny stories about spankings, like the time that one of my kids showed up in the laundry room (where spankings were administered) with about twelve pairs of underwear on. I told him then, “Son, I was born at night, but not last night. Go to your room and come back properly dressed.” This same son said, “Dad, you always told me that you were spanking me because you loved me. I never believed you then. But I do now. I am thankful for your love.”

I am so thankful, and so blessed.

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Mark Fox June 22, 2020
Mark Fox June 14, 2020

Dads Are Some of the Best Heroes

We hear a lot of talk these days about heroes. I am thankful for the Covid-19 heroes serving us in the medical community. I praise God for the servicemen and women who defend our freedom at home and abroad. They are heroes, as well. I will never be in either of those groups, and neither will most of you. But to all the dads reading this column, let me remind you of the heroic work that you have been called to do. Every day.

John G. Paton was born in a farm cottage not far from Dumfries, Scotland, May 24,1824, the eldest of eleven children. He set out to learn the trade of his father — the manufacture of stockings. For fourteen hours a day he manipulated one of the six “stocking frames” in his father’s workshop, using for study most of the two hours allotted each day for the eating of his meals.

As a youth John heard the voice of his Lord saying, “Go across the seas as the messenger of My love; and lo, I am with you.” Christ was leading him into a wider sphere of work and training, and he was determined to follow. It was hard to leave the happy home, but at length the day of separation arrived. It was about forty miles to Kilmarnock, where he would take a train to Glasgow. The journey to Kilmarnock had to be taken on foot, because he could not afford to travel by stagecoach. All his possessions were tied up in a large handkerchief, but he did not think of himself as poverty-stricken, for he had with him his Bible and his Lord.

His father walked with him the first six miles. The old man’s “counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey” were never forgotten by the son. At length they both lapsed into silence. The father carried his hat in his hand and his long yellow locks fell over his shoulders, while hot tears flowed freely and silent prayers ascended. Having reached the appointed parting place, they clasped hands and the father said with deep emotion, “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you and keep you from all evil!” Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears they embraced and parted.

Continuing down the road past a curve, John climbed the dyke for a last look and saw that his father had also climbed the dyke, hoping for one more glimpse of his boy. The old patriarch looked in vain, for his eyes were dim, then climbed down and started for home, his head still bared and his heart offering up fervent supplications. “I watched through blinding tears,” says the son in his Autobiography, “till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as He had given me.” In times of sore temptation in the years that followed, the father’s form rose before John’s eyes and served as a guardian angel.  (Eugene Harrison)

It was not a minister or a missionary who led John G. Paton to surrender his life to service to Christ and go to the New Hebrides Islands, becoming a messenger of Christ to the cannibals. It was the faith of his father. His hero was his dad. You want to hear the best news? God is able to make every one of us dads a hero just like that for our own children.

Happy Father’s Day, heroes.

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Mark Fox June 14, 2020
Mark Fox June 8, 2020

Racism Is an Equal Opportunity Destroyer

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote a song for the musical, South Pacific that went like this:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid, Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate, You’ve got to be carefully taught.” 

The bad news is that most of humanity has been taught very well. The good news is that in Christ, we can learn a new way. Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, is a perfect example.

Read the story in Acts 10. Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile, but not a follower of Jesus Christ. He was visited by an angel who told him to send for Peter. Peter, meanwhile, wouldn’t be caught dead going to a Gentile’s house. That just simply was not done. Until God gave him a vision. Peter saw a sheet lowered from heaven and on it were all kinds of unclean animals and reptiles and birds. God spoke from heaven and said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or ritually unclean.” God responded with this statement that we need to have emblazoned on our hearts today, perhaps for the first time: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and Peter came out of his trance just as the men from Cornelius’ house were arriving to see if he would come and visit. The Spirit again spoke and told Peter that He had sent them and that Peter should go. Peter did. He went to a Gentile’s house. He preached to a bunch of Gentiles. The Spirit fell on them and they were saved. 

I see the same God working in the Old Testament, in the story of Ruth. As I preached through that little book, I was struck by this fact: on one level, the story of Boaz and Ruth is a story of racial reconciliation. Boaz, a Jew, ends up marrying Ruth, a Moabitess. Two races, one heart.

Believers, let me make it plain to you. There is no place in the heart of a Christian for racism. That was part of the message to Peter: “Do not call common what I have made clean.” God used a dietary issue to point to a heart change in Peter that the apostle needed. God renewed his thinking that day on the rooftop.

Why is racism so ugly for a Christian? Because it attacks the very heart of the Gospel, The Gospel, the good news, is the saving knowledge of Christ that is given to men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation. God is not a respecter of persons. Neither should we be. 

Racism, an equal opportunity destroyer, comes in all sizes, colors, and languages. You can tell if you have a racist heart by one telltale sign. It comes out in your speech. Ethnic slurs. Racial jokes. Barbed words about people of different skin color come from the heart and wing their way through our lips. The heart can sometimes keep things hidden, but the mouth rarely does.

Been carefully taught to hate? It’s not too late to learn a new way.

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Mark Fox June 8, 2020
Mark Fox May 31, 2020

Worship Is Defined by Heart Attitude

As they carried the ark of the Lord back to where it belonged, with King David leading, the people of Israel stopped every six steps and worshipped. A sacrifice was made of oxen and fatted sheep. David was making sure that God was honored in this procession, and that the hearts of the people were turned towards the Lord. They had tried to bring the ark of the Lord back once before, on a cart rather than on the shoulders of priests, as God had prescribed. It did not go well. This time, David followed God’s instructions and the procession slowly winded toward Jerusalem. The sacrifices were made every six steps, but something else marked the joyful procession as well. David danced. The literal translation in 2 Samuel 6 is that David “twirled around.” It wasn’t a choreographed exhibition that David had worked on in the privacy of his chambers, with an ancestor of Martha Graham or Rudolf Nureyev. No, this was a spontaneous outburst of unabashed joy, expressed through David’s feet and his entire body. Before the Lord. That’s a key phrase in the passage. David danced before the Lord. For an audience of one. His was not a carefully planned scheme to show off his versatility for the Israeli people. “Look at me, I can dance!” He was not auditioning for the Hebrew’s new season of Dancing with the Stars. He was not trying to overcome a boyish fear of the spotlight by doing the most absurdly brash thing he could think of at the time. No. In fact, David was not thinking of David at all. He danced before the Lord. Not only that, David danced before the Lord “with all his might.” He threw away man’s predilection to do just enough to get by. David danced before the Lord with abandon. Why? It was worship. Dancing is so often not worship, but here it was. David worshiped the Lord in the dance, just as Psalm 149 says.

I would make two observations about this story and the encouragement in Psalms. First, I realize that dancing in the worship service is most likely not a part of your tradition. Indeed, it is not what I am used to seeing, at least not in this culture. Go with me to Kenya or Zimbabwe, though, and your understanding of what is “normal” in worship will be challenged. The point is, worship is not defined by particular actions but is defined by the heart attitude. David danced before the Lord with all his might. He could have sung with all his might and that would make many of you feel a little better about this whole episode. But he danced. He could have yodeled, and that would make us even more uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? I cannot picture the Kenyans breaking out into a group yodel at the top of their lungs.

Second, David’s wife, Michal, didn’t think much of his dancing. In fact, the Bible says she looked out a window at David and saw him twirling with abandon, and “she despised him in her heart.” Sadly, there are many Michals in the church today who stand back sneering at those who worship the Lord with more emotion or movement or even joy than they. Like Michal, they miss the celebration of God in worship themselves because of their own judgmental spirit.

The truth is, worship invites warfare. When you worship the living God, you draw a line in the sand and declare your allegiance. That will provoke the believers to exultation and the faithless to condemnation.

Worship on.

Whether you are sitting in a pew in the sanctuary or in a lawn chair in the church parking lot, worship on.

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Mark Fox May 31, 2020