Mark Fox July 14, 2024

Saving the Deliverer

The new Pharaoh did not know Joseph, except perhaps by reputation. What he did know was the people of Israel living in Egypt were growing and were strong. The ruler of the most powerful nation on earth said of the Hebrews, they are “too many and too mighty for us.” He was afraid of these people he did not know, who came from a different land, and his fear of them rising up against him led him to take drastic and wicked actions. His first act was to command the Israelites be made slaves. Their freedom to live in a foreign land disappeared over night, as taskmasters were appointed to rule over them with whips. God told Abraham this would happen, many years before: “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 400 years.” 

But the more the Hebrews were oppressed, the more they multiplied. These were God’s people, devoted to him and free in him, even while enslaved. Their suffering did nothing but cause them to lean more into God by faith as they “groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” The same holds true today and always has: the greatest growth of Christianity happens in times and places where it costs something to follow God and trust Jesus. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  

What happened in Egypt? When the oppression of slavery didn’t work, the king took steps to eliminate a race of people by destroying the male seed. He commanded the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to put to death every Hebrew baby boy as soon as he was born. 

The Pharaoh’s new edict threatened to eliminate the birth of the one who would lead God’s people out of bondage. But Shiphrah and Puah stood in the gap, as their reverence for God and life led them to refuse to do what the Pharaoh had commanded. Included in the number saved was Moses, the deliverer of Israel. 

These women are clearly heroes of the faith in the Bible, the first two “pro-life heroines” in history. Shiphrah means “beautiful one” and Puah means “splendid one,” and they were true to their names. These two effectively said to Pharaoh, long before Peter and John said to the rulers and elders in Jerusalem, “We must obey God rather than man.” 

Do you see the contrast between Pharaoh and these two women? Fear of man can cause us to do unspeakable things, as the Egyptian ruler did. But a love and reverence for God leads us on the path of righteousness, no matter the cost, as these two godly women illustrate for us. They must have understood the consequences of disobeying the Pharaoh. But the Bible and the history of Christianity are filled with examples of people who were willing to offer themselves as living sacrifices for the sake of obedience to the call of faith in Jesus.

Finally, the irony cannot be missed. The Pharaoh was worried about boys becoming men, but his plan was blown up by two women.

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Mark Fox July 14, 2024
Mark Fox July 8, 2024

The Story of Redemption

You know the old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. How do you eat the book of Exodus, 40 chapters, nearly 26,000 words, packed full of amazing stories of the redemption of God’s people? One bite at a time. I hope to spend most of the next two years walking through this book with the family of believers at Antioch. Why would we do that? Because we meet God in Exodus, as the hero of the story, just as he was in Genesis. God makes himself know to Moses and to the children of Israel, and to us, in this book. The Bible itself is the story of creation, the fall, redemption, and restoration. Exodus is the greatest story of redemption in the Old Testament. The book was first called “Names” in Hebrew because of the first few words, “These are the names.” But when the translation into Greek happened in the third century B.C., the Septuagint, it was renamed “Exodus,” which means “departure.” The first time that word occurs in the Greek is chapter 19: “On the third moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt…” 

This book is not about a people in Egypt, not primarily. No, they went out. This book is about the departure of God’s people by God’s mighty hand out of Egypt. It is not about residence; it is about exodus. And it is about God’s intervention in the affairs of men. In honor of our nation’s history and our celebration of Independence Day last week, I offer this story, which many of you know, about God’s intervention in our nation’s history before our nation ever came to be.

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, 23-year-old Colonel George Washington was one of 1,400 British troops under the command of General Braddock marching to capture Fort Duquesne, near Pittsburgh, when they were attacked by a French and Indian force. During the battle, “Braddock was killed and every officer on horseback was shot, except Washington.” The young colonel later wrote to his brother, “But by the All-Powerful Dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.” A Native American who fought in the battle later stated, “Washington was never born to be killed by a bullet! I had seventeen fair fires at him with my rifle and could not bring him to the ground.” 

Sounds like a miracle to me. But it pales in comparison to what we read in Exodus.

 “The exodus,” Philip Ryken wrote, “was the great miracle of the Old Covenant.” There is only one greater act of redemption in the whole Bible, the greatest of all time, and that was the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Psalm 66 invites us to study Exodus: “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. He turned the sea into dry land…Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard…” The exodus shaped the whole Bible, and there are over 120 references to it in the Old Testament alone. Psalm 77 tells us who God is:

“Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples. You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you,   they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled…Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

I am looking forward to every bite of this wonderful testimony of God’s providence and love.

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Mark Fox July 8, 2024
Mark Fox June 17, 2024

Love the Lord Most of All, Fathers!

A man named Steve Huffman wrote a column in our local paper several years ago about some great and not-so-great moments in the history of American fatherhood. Here’s a sampling from his timeline:

1861- Abraham Lincoln becomes president and the following year, his son, Willie, 11, dies. Thereafter, Lincoln takes great comfort in the company of his 8-year-old son, Tad, even after the boy drives a pair of goats through the White House.

1901- Teddy Roosevelt, father of 6, is sworn in as president. Of his outspoken daughter, Alice, he says, “I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

1950 – Harry Truman stands up for his daughter, Margaret, a concert singer, after she is hit with a scathing review in The Washington Post. “I have never met you,” Truman writes the reviewer, “but if I do, you’ll need a new nose…”

1974 – Harry Chapin releases “Cat’s in the Cradle,” a song about a dad who doesn’t spend enough time with his son who in turn grows up and doesn’t spend enough time with his dad. Across the country, men of all ages experience the ultimate guilt trip.

I love those stories, and I know it is tough being a good father. A Father’s Day card says, “Dad, everything I ever learned I learned from you, except one thing. The family car really will do 110.”

Fatherhood doesn’t look any easier when you look at the examples of fathers in the Scriptures. 

Jacob played favorites and ended up causing a family war, where11 of the brothers sold their brother Joseph into slavery. Jephthah made a foolish vow to God, promising that the first thing to come out of his doors when he arrived home from war he would sacrifice as a burnt offering…his only child, a daughter.

David, the man after God’s own heart, provoked his son Absalom to wrath, because David refused to see him or speak to him for 2 years. It ended in civil war and the death of Absalom. And one of the saddest moments for fatherhood was when Eli, a high priest and a judge of Israel, was judged by God and the nation of Israel was also judged, losing the ark of the covenant to the Philistines. Why were he and Israel judged?  God said to Eli, through young Samuel, “And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” 

Fatherhood is not for wimps. And I know sometimes we fathers feel like we are being beat up on from all sides. We know men and fathers are reviled in the media. Sometimes men even feel like they’re not safe at church. One little boy said to the preacher, “Boy that was a good sermon. My dad slumped way down today!” 

The Bible has much to say about being a father and one of the best places to start is Deuteronomy 6. There, God tells fathers what is most important, and how to live that out before our children: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

There is one God in three persons and he alone is God. We stand on that creed and proclaim it, no matter the cost. Martin Luther, on trial for his faith said, Here I stand, I can do no other. Joshua said, Choose this day whom you will serve… Peter, on trial for his faith, said, We must obey God rather than men… Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, on trial for their lives, said, Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. 

Antioch hosted some people from Voice of the Martyrs years ago, and one of them told the story and showed the picture of a 10 year old boy, living in Sudan, who was captured by militant Muslims, forced to build a fire, and then was ordered to pray to Allah or be thrown into the fire. “It is impossible,” he replied. “I am a Christian and belong to Jesus.” So they threw him into the fire. He was badly burned but survived. 

We in America sometimes run from the least amount of pushback from scoffers, not to mention violent persecution.  God asked Jeremiah this question:  If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, then how will you compete with horses?” 

Let’s stand, fathers, and love God with all that we have. Our children need that kind of father.

 

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Mark Fox June 17, 2024
Mark Fox June 16, 2024

Welcome home

Last week I wrote about 5 roadblocks to grace, according to Jerry Bridges in his book, Transforming Grace. Here is one more of the 10 he wrote about. You don’t understand grace if you…

Think you can do something to make God love you more or love you less. We have all heard it: there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than he does. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you any less than he does. We hear it. But we don’t believe it. So we keep trying harder to get it all right and to be perfect. But that’s looking in the wrong place. Arthur Pink wrote years ago, “The great mistake made by most of the Lord’s people is in hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.” Sam Storm wrote, “Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit…Grace ceases to be grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit…(Grace) is treating a person…solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.” As the hymn writer said, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

That’s what was happening in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. Philip Yancey wrote a modern version in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, that starts like this: A young girl grows up on a cherry orchard just above Traverse City, Michigan.  Her parents, a bit old-fashioned, tend to overreact to her nose ring, the music she listens to, and the length of her skirts.  They ground her a few times, and she seethes inside.  “I hate you,” she screams at her father when he knocks on the door of her room after an argument, and that night she acts on a plan she has mentally rehearsed scores of times.  She runs away. She ends up in Detroit, on the street, on drugs and selling herself to support her habit. Months go by and she sees her picture on a flier one day with “Have you seen this child?” written under it. That scares her but she laughs it off because she doesn’t look anything like that picture, and she is certainly not a child any more. Her life takes a turn when she gets sick, a cough that won’t go away and her skin starts to yellow. She is all alone and afraid and suddenly all she can think of is home in Traverse City. 

The girl makes three phone calls home and each goes to voicemail. On the third call, she leaves a message: Dad, Mom, it’s me.  I was wondering about maybe coming home.  I’m catching a bus up your way, and it’ll get there about midnight tomorrow.  If you’re not there, well, I guess I’ll just stay on the bus until it hits Canada.” On the seven hour bus ride she practices what she will say, telling her dad that she’s sorry and it was all her fault, not his…her throat tightens; she hasn’t apologized to anyone in years. The bus arrives in Traverse City and the driver says, “Fifteen minutes, folks, then the bus will pull out.” She straightens her skirt, runs a brush through her hair, looks at her nicotine stained fingers and wonders if they will say something about them, and then she shuffles into the terminal…

There, in the concrete-walls-and-plastic-chairs bus terminal in Traverse City, Michigan, stands a group of forty brothers and sisters and great-aunts and uncles and cousins and even her grandmother.  And taped across the entire wall of the terminal is a banner that reads, “Welcome Home!” Out of the crowd of cheers and well-wishers walks her Dad.  She stares out through the tears quivering in her eyes like hot mercury and begins the memorized speech, “Dad, I’m sorry. I know….” He interrupts her.  “Shhh, honey.  We’ve got no time for that.  No time for apologies.  You’ll be late for the party.  A banquet’s waiting for you at home.”

One day several years ago, as I was driving down the road and thinking about the grace of God while talking through some verses in Titus and watching for deer, I was suddenly filled with an almost overwhelming sense of God’s presence with me and his assurance to me that I am his. And that he loves me. And likes me. And that he is pleased with me, that by his grace I am what I am. 

He thinks the very same thing about you, each of you who have been welcomed home from the far country into an eternal relationship with Christ.

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Mark Fox June 16, 2024
Mark Fox June 3, 2024

Grace the size of the ocean

In his book, Transforming Grace, Jerry Bridges says there are some telltale signs that show we don’t really understand grace. Here are the first five roadblocks in Bridges’ book to walking in the power of God’s grace as a believer. He says you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Live with a vague sense of his disapproval. That means you live with a performance-based acceptance mindset. Instead, with the understanding that God is for you, you can live with acceptance-based performance. You do what pleases the Lord because you love him and you know he accepts and loves you perfectly. Tim Keller wrote in his book, Forgive, “We are so united in Christ in the Father’s eyes that when he sees us, he sees Jesus. Christians are so one with Christ that we are as forgiven as if we had already died for our sins, as if we had already been raised. We are so one with Christ that when the Father sees us, he treats us as if we deserve all the glory and honor that Jesus deserves. Over 160 times in the New Testament, Paul speaks of being ‘in Christ’ or ‘in him.’ He calls himself a ‘man in Christ’ in 2 Corinthians 12. It utterly dominated Paul’s self-understanding and it must dominate ours.”

Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Hesitate to bring your needs to him when you’ve just failed him. The Bible says in Isaiah says that God has cast all our sins behind his back. So all of our failures, past, present and future, are out of sight, covered by God’s grace. Why would we wait to come to God when we fail again? Do we want our children to ever be afraid to come to us? Of course not. How much more our heavenly Father welcomes us with open arms. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Think that grace is something that makes up the difference between the best you can do and what you think God expects from you. That would be like two of us trying to jump across the Grand Canyon, which averages nine miles apart. I might jump 15 feet after a full sprint. You come along and blow me away with a 30-foot jump. We both end up in the bottom of the canyon. God is not a taskmaster, but a loving father. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Feel you deserve an answer to prayer because of your hard work and sacrifice. That reminds me of the Pharisee who prayed thus with himself: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” He went down to his house unjustified, not like the tax collector who threw himself on God’s grace and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” To the degree that we or our children trust in our own self-righteousness, putting any confidence in our own good works or achievements, to that same degree we are not living by the grace of God. Next, you don’t understand God’s grace when you…

Assume that forgiveness no longer applies to you now that you’ve sinned so many times you’ve used up all your credit. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is not a Coke machine who one day runs out of product. He’s not a bank that runs out of money. Paul said, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.

If God’s grace is the Pacific Ocean, too much of our life is spent happily paddling around in a plastic kiddie pool. What we know of God’s grace is so limited, and always will be. I think that’s part of what eternity is for. Exploring the depths of God’s grace. Exploring the depths of God!

Why wait? We can start now swimming in the ocean of God’s grace.

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Mark Fox June 3, 2024
Mark Fox May 26, 2024

Don’t Get Carried Away

Peter says, “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” Peter may have been thinking about the time he was deceived and deceiving others about the Gentiles. He was carried away into sinful thinking and behavior until Paul confronted him.

Never happens to any of us, right?

Yes. It does. How do we know we have been carried away with the error, the lies, of the lawless? We lose our stability. We are blown about by every wind of doctrine that comes whistling down through the corridors of culture. We begin to say things like, “It really doesn’t matter which God you believe in, as long as you are sincere.” Or, “Isn’t church an institution that has outlived its usefulness? I don’t really need the church, right? I can just follow Jesus on my own.” Or, “I believe in science; it is really the only thing in the world that is reliable.” Or, “Because of all the suffering in the world, God is either not all loving or he is not all powerful, and therefore I cannot trust him.” These questions are not new; they have all been around for a long time, and each are errors of lawless people that Peter warns us about. By the way, a great resource that does an excellent job with some of these questions and others I didn’t mention is Rebecca McLaughlin’s book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion. We worked through the teen version a few years ago in a morning class here at Antioch: Ten Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) About Christianity.

Peter says to the stable Christian, take care that you do not lose your stability! And I would say to parents that it is especially important that you are settled in what you believe because you have children watching you every day, and their stability will at least be influenced by yours. It’s like that warning we always hear on the airplane: “In case there is a loss in cabin pressureyellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you.” And they always say that if you are traveling with children, “please secure your own mask before assisting others around you.” Secure your own faith so that you can assist those around you. If you get carried away with the error of people who have rejected the truth of God’s Word, you also put your children and others who watch your faith at risk.

 

Harrison Butker is a kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs who has helped them win three Super Bowls. Some of you have heard about the firestorm surrounding his commencement address he gave last week at Benedictine College. The remark that caused the longest applause at the commencement and the greatest protest in the nation afterward were these, directed to the female graduates: “Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world…I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.”

Cancel culture was firing on all cylinders as people around the country called for this man to be fired for saying these things. Here’s the question we have to answer. Does the Bible elevate or denigrate the office of homemaker? Elevate! That certainly does not mean a woman cannot have a career outside the home. But it also does not mean she has to in order to find meaningful purpose in her life. Being a homemaker is not just a career, it is a calling.

Peter would say to all who want to cave to the lies of the culture, “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people.”

 

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Mark Fox May 26, 2024
Mark Fox May 20, 2024

A Wonderful Rebuke!

A rather pompous church leader was trying to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you?”

Well, Peter certainly knew Paul, and he was anything but pompous. And at the end of his second letter, Peter refers to him as “our beloved brother Paul.” Peter knew, as any believer of that day did, that before Paul was saved, he was a Jewish terrorist named Saul who tracked down and imprisoned followers of Christ. The men who stoned Stephen to death laid their garments beside this young man Saul, as he watched the execution of the first martyr and then became an executioner himself. In those days he would have been, “our horrifying terrorist Saul.” But wonder of wonders, Jesus apprehended him on the road to Damascus, just as he does every person who comes to faith. Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus; Jesus came looking for him. He was gloriously saved and then he became “our beloved brother Paul.” Right? Not exactly, not according to the Scriptures. 

After Paul was saved, he was living and growing as a believer with the community of disciples in Damascus. He finally left there and the Bible says, “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” At that point, it sounds like he was “our scary brother Paul.”  We understand why they would be afraid, right? But I think the larger point here is that we all have stories and some are scarier than others. We all came from lives wrecked by sin, even if our sin did not express itself in dramatic ways as it did with Saul and many others. Never underplay the miracle of your salvation, and that God brought you from a mighty long way as the old Gospel song said. We were all “dead in our trespasses and sins, following the course of this world…but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” And here’s something we learn from Peter’s words about Paul: we are called to be both the speakers and the hearers of truth. 

Paul clearly and boldly spoke the truth to Peter one day, and Peter humbly heard it from him.

I love the story in Galatians 2 because it tells me so much about these two pillars of the faith. Peter was not a perfect Christian. He had fallen into self-deception and was even being used by the enemy to turn other men of faith, at least Barnabas for one, away from the truth of the Gospel. It was a public sin that was misleading the church and so Paul confronted Peter publicly, “before them all.” We know that Peter repented; if he hadn’t his two letters would not have been written. We also know that Peter received this instruction from a man younger in the faith, a man who had not walked with Jesus for 3 years, and a man who had a horrific past. But Peter listened and turned from his sin. 

The church and the witness of the Gospel could have been badly damaged in those days if Paul had not had the spiritual courage to confront Peter, the powerful preacher and apostle. And the church would have been badly damaged if Peter had not repented when confronted with the truth about his hypocrisy. 

Beloved, the church universal will prevail and Jesus will return to gather all of his sheep and shepherds. But local churches are diminished or destroyed when leaders turn away from the Scriptures and will not listen to those who come to them with pleas and prayers and biblical truth.

 

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Mark Fox May 20, 2024
Mark Fox May 13, 2024

Grace-Powered Diligence

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

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

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

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

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

That makes all the difference.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord’s Gracious Delay

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

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

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

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

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

That is cause for great rejoicing.

 

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Mark Fox April 28, 2024