Mark Fox May 18, 2020

Outside the Greenhouse

I remember when my oldest son, Micah, was about 2 years old. I walked into a room that he had just finished trashing and said, in alarm, “Micah!” He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and in all innocence said, “Wha’ Micah do?” That was 33 years ago. When he was 19, Micah called me from college to seek my counsel about something. Now he was asking, “What should Micah do?” He was willing to do that from 725 miles away because he developed the habit as a child. He would come to talk to me and his Mom about any problem he was facing. When he was young, Micah went through a period where he would come and confess anything he had done wrong or even thought of doing wrong. I can remember many nights as I was just about to drift off into a peaceful slumber when I would hear that familiar voice at the bedroom door saying, “Mom? Dad? Can I talk to you about something?” Most of the time, what Micah really needed was to know that we loved him, and that we believed he was doing well. Sometimes he needed correction or encouragement to change something in his life. He always wanted and needed me to pray for him, and to ask the Lord to give my firstborn child His peace. In almost every case, he was willing to listen to what his Mom and Dad had to say, because he had learned to love and respect us as his authorities. He had learned the hard way (as most of us have to) that the safest place to be is under the protection that is afforded a child who submits gladly to his parents.

The culmination of these ‘visits in the night’ came when Micah popped his head in one night to say, “Dad, I’m not sure sometimes whether I need to come to you with a question or not, or if I just need to pray about it and see what the Lord tells me….But I guess I do know, actually. Because if I take it to the Lord but it keeps bugging me and I can’t get it out of my mind, then I know I am supposed to come to you as well.” I knew then that he was ready to leave home and face the challenges of life outside the “greenhouse” of family. He was ready to be transplanted in a world that is hostile to most of what he believes and stands for; he was ready to make a difference in the culture. I knew that was true because I had seen Micah transfer his dependence from his earthly father to his heavenly Father.

He had found in Jesus a wonderful counselor who is never too busy, always willing to listen, and always has the right answer. He had learned how to search the Scriptures to find counsel, and he had learned how to seek the Lord through prayer and wait until he gets an answer. He had developed a relationship with Jesus Christ that was all his own, and this young ‘arrow’ was ready to be released.

There is nothing like the protection that our family can provide as we raise little ones to maturity in the ‘greenhouse’ of home life. It is a safe place that nurtures these children like olive plants (Psalm 128:3) as they grow up. But the home is like a huddle for a football team. The huddle is a safe place; nobody ever gets tackled in the huddle. No one is ever injured in the huddle. Neither does any team ever score in the huddle! The purpose of a football huddle is that the players receive instructions so they can go out and make plays that will move the ball forward and score touchdowns and win the game. So it is with our families. God has given us these tender plants to raise and nurture, and the home should be a safe place. But the end result is that the children leave the home, fully equipped and prepared to make a difference in the culture for the Kingdom. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. (Psalm 127:4) Arrows in the quiver may look nice but they don’t do anything. Arrows are made to be released toward a target so that the army can advance. May God give us wisdom and courage as parents to train up sons and daughters who will be ready to hit the target for which they were created.

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Mark Fox May 18, 2020
Mark Fox May 11, 2020

Gone to the Dogs?

The Times-News headline several years ago read, “Gone to the dogs: church starts pet service.”  The AP story was about a pastor in Los Angeles who, wanting to add more bottoms in the pews, decided it did not matter how furry those behinds were. He started a service for dogs, “complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats.” Pastor Eggebeen’s, um, support, for this idea came to him through close examination of the Scriptures. I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Here is the pastor’s logical leap: “The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an ‘is’: That God is light and God is love. And wherever there’s love, there’s God in some fashion. And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that’s a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that.”

I shudder at the influence of such men who are willing to twist for their own purposes what the Bible really says. Many who read this column will have had the same visceral reaction to Eggebeen’s statements that all we know for sure of God is that He is light and love. We also know that He is holy, just, good and glorious. We know that He came to earth in human flesh to “seek and to save that which was lost.” We know that in the person of Jesus Christ, God said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We know that God created all that we see and all that we cannot see and that into man alone He breathed His Spirit.

We also know that humans alone have souls and can therefore be saved from sin. At no time while Jesus was here on earth is it recorded in the Bible that He stopped to bless an animal or heal someone’s pet. He mentioned animals at times in His teaching to show sinful man what it means to trust God. He cares for the ravens, for example, “who neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.” What is the point? Jesus says, “Of how much more value are you than the birds?” Jesus did not come and give His life for dogs, cats, birds or iguanas, but for the one species that is made in God’s image: mankind.

I understand our love for our pets; we have had dogs and cats and I grew up loving the pets I had as a child. But we must not pretend that our ability to love something brings it into the sacred realm or puts it on the same level as human beings. I admit that I laugh when I read a bumper sticker that says, “My Yorkshire Terrier is smarter than your honor student.” But that honor student was made in the image of God and has a soul that will live forever and was created to know and please and worship the Creator. The Yorkshire Terrier, as cute and as intelligent as it may be, was created by God to serve man, to live to please man, but it cannot know God or understand grace and forgiveness.

Pastor Eggebeen, like many others, may have the very best intentions with his pet-centric services of worship. But I would suggest that letting the church go to the dogs is not the answer to his attendance woes. It will simply prolong the inevitable. Where man’s “wisdom” is elevated above God’s Word, that church simply cannot survive.

By the way, one final note: church services for people will resume soon. In fact, come to Antioch Community Church in Elon next Sunday at 10am and bring your lawn chair for an outdoor time of worship and study in the book of Mark!

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Mark Fox May 11, 2020
Mark Fox May 3, 2020

Keepers of the Springs

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my Mother would like for Mother’s Day.” The girl answered, “Well, you could decide to keep your room clean and orderly. You could go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told. You could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” The boy looked at her and said, “Naah, I mean something practical.” 

I like the Mother’s Day card that is written in a child’s hand. On the front is a little boy with untied sneakers. He is about 6 years old, and he has a wagon and toys are everywhere. He has a little cut on his face and there are smudges all over the card. It reads, “Mom, I remember that little prayer you used to say for me every day.” Inside is the prayer: “God help you if you ever do that again!”

Then there was the teenage boy who came bounding into the house only to find his Mom in bed. He was truly concerned and asked if she was sick or something. His Mom answered that, as a matter of fact, she wasn’t feeling very well. The son replied, “Well, don’t worry about dinner. I’ll be happy to carry you down to the stove.”

OK, I know it is tough being a Mom, and maybe humor like that is not exactly what you need. But since we are approaching that “special day” when we make an extra effort to celebrate motherhood, I wanted to start you thinking with a smile on your face!

Mothers are, to use Peter Marshall’s metaphor from a sermon long ago, “the keepers of the springs.” Marshall told the story of a small village that grew up at the foot of the mountain. Up in the hills a forest dweller decided that he would be the “keeper of the springs.” Everywhere he found a spring in the hills, he would remove the filth so the water would be clean, cold and pure, never stagnant. He performed his job with delight, and the city responded with their thanks and a monthly check. The keeper of the springs kept the water flowing, and it became a river of life to the town. Mill wheels turned by its rush and gardens were refreshed by its waters. The city council met to decide its budget one year when income was tight, and they decided the keeper of the springs would have to go. They fired him. The keeper of the springs no longer went to the springs to clean, and soon the filth began to accumulate. As a result, sickness found its way into many homes. Some even died. The city council met again and decided they had made a mistake and invited the keeper of the spring back into his position. And health and life were restored from the waters that flowed pure again. Peter Marshall said that it is the mother who is the modern-day keeper of the spring. Her ministry to the family, he said, keeps it glowing with health.

What does a mother look like? Here is just one example, and there are many, that come from God’s Word and are his ‘refrigerator art,’ if you will, pictures of what God thinks about moms.

In Psalm 128:3, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine, and we are told that she is 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. Nancy Wilson wrote in her book on motherhood, Praise Her in the Gates, “The mother is central to the picture of blessing and prosperity. Around the table are the olive shoots, an image of promise and growth and future prosperity. This psalm concludes with a blessing: ‘Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!’ A mother who fulfills her fruitful calling is a means God uses to bring blessing for her entire family, her husband, the church, and the community.”

Keeper of the springs. Fruitful vine. Shaper of the next generation. Beautiful wife and faithful co-laborer in the Gospel. Happy Mother’s Day and, thank you!

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Mark Fox May 3, 2020
Mark Fox April 26, 2020

You Can Run but You Cannot Hide

I learned pretty early on in my Christian walk that I could run from God but I could not hide. Like the time I decided to skip church one Wednesday night and watch television at my grandparent’s house. The only problem was, I really needed to have my glasses if I was going to watch TV, but I left them at home when I made the 2-mile drive over to Grandma’s. Why? Do you really have to ask why a 17-year-old who wears coke-bottle glasses because he’s blind as a bat would leave them at home when he’s driving through the neighborhood in the daytime? Have you forgotten how important it was to be cool when you were a teenager? It was important to me, too. And since I didn’t have a chance at being cool, I had to at least look cool! That didn’t work for me either, but I could still pretend, couldn’t I?

I headed home to collect my glasses. I slowed down just a little at the stop sign that was there just to test my skills at crossing from Grandma’s road to our road without having to tap the brakes more than once. Driving along, singing a song, and then I saw it. A blur of blue in my rear view. I couldn’t really tell what it was exactly, but I figured it wasn’t the northern lights, so I pulled over. A few seconds later, a sheriff’s deputy appeared at my door and I began to shake. I looked up and saw that his mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. My window! I rolled it down quickly and he said something again, but my ears had temporarily stopped working. He said it a third time, forcefully: “Get out of the car, sir!” I got out, half expecting him to slap some cuffs on me and drag me off to jail, since I had just had a wreck a few weeks earlier, a wreck that was my fault.

The sheriff’s deputy was asking me another question, and I didn’t answer because, once again, my  ears were refusing to work. The officer was beginning to think I was mute. And maybe blind. My glasses! He was asking about my glasses and why I wasn’t wearing them, and according to my license I was required by law to wear them. Did I know that I had run a stop sign back there, and did I know that I could be cited for driving without a license, and did I know that I had nearly run a car off the road? And suddenly I was in a time warp, and my first-grade teacher was saying, “Mark, did you know that it was wrong to hit Kip in the head?”

I was finally able to speak, and the sheriff’s deputy kindly served God’s purposes by giving me a ticket. I said “Yes, sir,” as he explained the consequences of my actions, and I said “Yes, sir,” as the DMV revoked my license for 60 days, and I said, “Yes, sir” as I paid my fine for running a stop sign.

The Bible says, “Your sin will find you out.” That’s for sure. I am thankful that the God who owns the universe governs my life. I can try to run from him, but I can never hide. He loves me too much to let me do that.

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Mark Fox April 26, 2020
Mark Fox April 20, 2020

Here Are Things We Can Learn While Staying at Home

A mother in Austin, Texas writes, “Here are some important things I have learned from my six-year-old son.  A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 square foot house about four inches deep.  If you hook a dog-leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 lb. boy wearing batman underwear and a superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a room. Always look in the oven before you turn it on. Plastic toys do not like ovens.  However, the fire department in Austin, Texas has a five-minute response time. The spin cycle on a washing machine will make cats dizzy. And…cats throw up twice their body weight when they’re dizzy.” (from “Car Talk”)

Ok, though I am sure some of you parents can relate with sighs and groanings, there are actually some really positive things we can learn during the shut-down. Many people are learning to play an instrument or speak another language. Some have started a blog or are working on the great American novel. Many who have not had time for exercise are being introduced to the joys of running or hiking or cycling. Some are working on really getting to know their spouse, or their children. Those are all excellent pursuits, and I would like to suggest one more.

With churches being limited to streaming services online or using conference calls to keep up with and teach the Bible to their people, the home has become an even more critical center for spiritual instruction. Dads and moms are awakening to the truth that they can teach their children to read and study the Bible. They are making time for prayer as a family and encouraging their children to develop a deeper relationship with God by talking to him and listening to him speak through his word. Many call this, “family devotions.” If you are unfamiliar with the term and don’t really know how to get started, let me encourage you with a few basic principles that my wife and I used with our children when they were still at home.

Pick a book of the Bible you want to take the family through, and then read a chapter or a part of a chapter every day. Proverbs is a great one. Take turns reading. After reading he passage, I would ask each child, “What did you like? Or what question do you have?” They knew the question was coming, so they were listening carefully as we read through the section, and they were asking the Lord to show them what they needed to hear in it. There was almost always a good discussion, and I especially enjoyed their questions. That gave me an opportunity to help them see something that they didn’t understand. Our children need to sense that there’s a freedom to ‘not know’ so they don’t feel foolish asking a question! They also need to know that you don’t know everything. That teaches them that learning the wisdom of the Lord is a lifetime process, and we are all students. There were times when I said, “I don’t know! But I will try and find an answer for you, and we will talk about it more tomorrow.” One other thing: some say they are waiting until their children are old enough to read before they start doing family devotions. Why wait? Read to them, and there are some excellent resources you can use with small children along with the Bible. My favorite is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ wonderful book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. 

After your time reading, spend some time praying. I would ask for prayer requests and then we would go around the circle, and each child would pray, even if it was just a sentence. We watched their prayers and their faith grow over the years.

Here’s the really exciting news. Leading family devotions does not require a Bible or seminary degree. You do not have to be an elder in your church, or even sing in the choir! Normal men and women can do it, and as they say, God must really love normal people like you and me, because he made so many of us.

Does this mean that when the churches open their doors again, you don’t have to go back? No! We need the body of Christ, we need the fellowship, the corporate worship, the preaching, the serving, missions, and all that goes into what is a healthy church. Your pursuit of learning to do family devotions will make your family a healthier member of the whole body, so start today, and don’t ever stop. My wife and I still have family devotions, just the two of us!

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Mark Fox April 20, 2020
Mark Fox April 13, 2020

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

You may have heard about the man walking through his neighborhood one night when he saw a child inching along on his hands and knees beneath a streetlight. “What’s wrong, Jimmy? Did you lose something?” the man asked. “Yes,” whimpered Jimmy. “I dropped the dollar Mama gave me for ice cream.” Feeling sorry for the boy, the man got down on his hands and knees and started looking diligently for the missing money. After a few minutes, he said, “I’m sorry, Jimmy, but I don’t see your dollar anywhere. Are you sure this is where you lost it?” “No,” Jimmy replied. “I dropped it over there in the vacant lot.” “What?” the man said. “If you dropped it way over there, why are you looking for it here?” Jimmy pointed across the street and said, “It’s dark over there and I can’t see a thing! I can see a lot better here.”

It occurs to me that Jimmy was more theologically correct than he knew. The only way you can find what you lost in the darkness is to come to the light.

The angels on resurrection day had a different question for the two women who had come to anoint the dead body of their Savior: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Why look in the darkness for the One who is the light of the world?

I sometimes think it might be helpful to have an angel or two pop up in front of me once in a while and ask me the same kinds of questions. “Hey, Mark, why are you living as though your Savior were still dead?” “Hey, why are you rummaging around in the dark when the things you need can only be found in the light?” And, “Hey, why are you still carrying that?”

We do tend to live as though Jesus were still in his tomb, and we often carry burdens that we should have put down a long time ago. We forget — or fail to trust — that Jesus finished the entire work of our salvation, and we say or think things like, “Well, yeah, Jesus died for my sins — but now it’s up to me to live a life good enough to get into heaven.” That’s thinking as though Jesus is still dead. 

Or, like the women who carried one hundred pounds of linens and spices to the tomb that morning, we struggle under heavy burdens and worry about things as though God expected us to handle life on our own. We say things like, “Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you.” Wrong. We must pray. And we must work! But everything still depends on God. Otherwise, we live as though the One who conquered sin and death is not available, or not concerned, or not all-powerful. That’s living as though Jesus is still in the grave.

But Jesus is not dead. His grave is empty — there’s no reason to be looking for him there. And that’s why the angel’s question is such a good reminder to us — and a healthy rebuke when our faith needs to be directed once again to God’s promises. Let’s not live as though Jesus were dead; we have a risen Lord.

Truth cannot be sealed in a tomb…or in a life. It certainly was not with Jesus. May we worship Him openly, with great passion and joy and delight. May we walk humbly with Him, trusting Him for every step and for help with every burden.

He is risen!

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Mark Fox April 13, 2020
Mark Fox April 5, 2020

The Dark Day Had to Come First

When Jesus was crucified, there was darkness over the whole land for three hours. We know what it’s like when the power goes out, don’t we? But even when we had no power a few weeks ago because of the ice storm, we could see during the day. The “light” was still on. But at noon as Jesus hung on the cross, God turned off the lights. The darkness of the cross was magnified when God turned the sky black. Can I remind you for a moment of what Jesus was going through?

The punishment of crucifixion was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, and sedition. Among the Romans, scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death, preceded crucifixion. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members. The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. The swelling about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely occurred before thirty-six hours had elapsed. The end was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

Jesus suffered more than any man ever has, not just because of the brutal killing instrument that he hung upon and the unspeakable pain he bore. He suffered the greatest pain because of the punishment he bore. Could this be another reason why God turned off the lights? The darkness over the earth magnified the separation between God and his Son.

Alistair Begg says that the basic meaning of sin is to forsake God. Before you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” stop and consider. To forsake God can mean to go through your days as if God is not important. It is to live life on your own terms and only fit God into the picture when it is convenient, to have him as a sub-category in terms of what is really important to us. You are fine having him in the backseat. But you certainly don’t want him driving the car. The idea that he would take over and you would be under his authority in everything is offensive to you. If then, the essence of sin is to forsake God, the consequence of sin is to be God-forsaken. That’s why Jesus cried out as he did from the cross in His darkest hour, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Why was the perfect Savior God-forsaken? Because he was bearing your sin and my sin in his body on the tree. Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”

This is the mystery of Easter. The dark day had to come first, for the new day to dawn once and for all.

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Mark Fox April 5, 2020
Mark Fox March 29, 2020

Pressure Cookers of Resentment

The coronavirus has forced many of us to stay home more than we are used to, and that can lead to wonderful or not-so-terrific outcomes. People can tend to get a little touchy, slightly more irritable than normal. Reminds me of a peculiar habit camels seem to have. Read on…

William Barclay said, “There may be greater sins than touchiness, but there is none that does greater damage to the Christian church.” I found that quote as I was reading what Paul wrote 2 Timothy, instructing the young pastor that leadership requires thick skin, someone who is not easily offended. In fact, a leader is one who “patiently endures evil.” It could also be translated, “Bearing evil from others without resentment.” This is a rare quality, isn’t it? Let’s face it. There are lots of people who cannot bear anything without resentment, much less evil. They get resentful at the stoplight for staying red longer than they think is just. Look at them the wrong way and you are off their party-invitation list forever. Others will allow you a wrong look or a cross word or two, but they are adding your missteps to an invisible scale that they keep in their memory. Whoa to you when you finally tip the scale in the wrong direction. This is illustrated in nature, I discovered, with camels. Who knew? In his book, Zoo Vet, David Taylor writes, “Camels may build up a pressure cooker of resentment toward human beings until the lid suddenly blows off and they go berserk. In Asia, when a camel driver senses trouble, he gives his coat to the animal. Rather like Japanese workers who are reported to work off frustrations by beating up models of their executives, the camel gives the garment (a fit)—jumping on it, biting it, tearing it to pieces. When the camel feels it has blown its top enough, man and animal can live together in harmony again.”

Talk about getting your hump in a wad. And, just wondering, how many coats does a camel driver have to keep on hand? The problem with that whole scenario is obvious. If Carlos the camel owner is off his game by just a little, and doesn’t correctly read the signs that Carl the Camel is subtly sending him, it may be that Carlos, not his coat, is torn to pieces. Same way with you, as you face the wrath of Ken or Kara the church members. You may never know when you say the very thing that sends them into orbit. Or out the door. They won’t even give you a chance to offer them your coat or your hat to jump up and down and spit on. They just bolt. You may hear some reasons why they exploded later, as a friend of a friend of theirs tells you what they said about you on Facebook. Or, you may never know.

Paul’s instruction to young Timothy is clear: don’t be a pressure cooker of resentment yourself. When the camels are spitting and stomping all around, you are to remain calm. You are to be quick to forgive and slow to take offense, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean a leader is as silent as a post. No, he is to be skilled in “correcting his opponents with gentleness.” This is part of the problem: leaders who are unable or unwilling to gently correct evil behavior.

There is power in the life that refuses to drink in bitterness when others attack. It is the power that Christ Himself displayed as He was mocked and beaten and spat upon and finally crucified. There is no more beautiful picture of Christ than that of suffering servant. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he opens not his mouth.”

Two things, then. When pressure at home builds up, go outside. Exercise! And, be very careful around your camel.

 

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Mark Fox March 29, 2020
Mark Fox March 22, 2020

Looking for a Less Busy Heart

I wrote this column in a different season, but it has applications for where we are now as a nation and as a people, tempted to give in the fear in the face of a virus. I hope this will be an encouragement to you!

Let’s say you are looking at the checkbook and there is more month left than money. Been there? You have two weeks to go until your next paycheck, no money, and three bills that have to be paid. What do you do? If you are like most, you start to panic. You immediately go from “heart at rest” to heart palpitations. You start to panic. Then you complain to yourself. “Why is this happening? What am I going to do?” That doesn’t satisfy you at all, so you take the typical next step: you complain to someone else. You get on the phone and ask someone to commiserate with you. Let’s be honest. What you are really doing is asking your friend to enter into unrest with you. Let’s shuck it down even further. You are asking your friend (whom you love?) to enter into unbelief with you.

Everybody who has been there, say “Amen.” In fact, if you have been in this place, stuck between a rock and a hard place without a pickaxe, that’s good. Recognize that God puts us there to teach us that He alone is sufficient to meet our needs. That doesn’t mean we can throw money away or live the life of a king on a pauper’s salary. That’s just foolishness that brings its own punishment. But let’s say you are living within your means and the unexpected happens. Suddenly your means are not enough. As the saying goes, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” This is a great place to trust the Lord.

That’s what the psalmist decided to do as he spoke this word to himself: “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!” What a wonderful verse to memorize, to speak to yourself during difficult days, and most of all, to believe. Instead of the panicked phone call to a friend, speak to your soul and to God. Charles Spurgeon said, “Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience, but in the Lord alone. When the believer prays, and the Lord inclines His ear, the road to the old rest is before him; let him not be slow to follow it.”

Has the Lord dealt bountifully with you? Oh, yes. No matter your circumstances at the moment, the fact that there is breath in your lungs is a gift from God. The fact that you can see to read this column is a gift from God. And if God has brought you to knowledge of the faith and you have trusted Christ alone for your salvation, you are indeed blessed. We can all pray without hypocrisy, “Lord, let my soul return to its rest,” no matter the trouble we may be facing.

One final point. Don’t confuse this request with a desire for life to be easy, or stress-free. Let me ask you something. Was Jesus busy? Oh, yes, from before sunup to after sundown, the Lord was working. Was Jesus’ soul always at rest? It was. In his book, “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller writes, “The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed focus on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.”

During this time when the busy-ness of our lives has been slowed down and we have no choice but to be quiet, to connect more closely with our families, to read more, to pray more, and to think more, may God teach us how to have a less busy heart.

Yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

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Mark Fox March 22, 2020
Mark Fox March 15, 2020

The Grace of God Is a Gift

When I was 15, I finally understood the grace of God for the first time. I wanted to drive more than I wanted to breathe, so I asked my grandmother if I could take her 1969 Mercury Comet convertible, cherry red, out of the garage and drive it into the backyard where I would wash it. She said yes, so I backed it out slowly, and maneuvered it down a gentle slope into the yard. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, the radio was playing, I was driving a convertible: life was good. Then I pulled a 15 and hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The car exploded forward, slamming into a fine upstanding specimen of our North Carolina state tree. The tree didn’t move. The front end of that beautiful Mercury folded up like an accordion, everything on the seats slid violently into the floor, I went into shock, and my grandmother, who stood close by and watched the whole thing, nearly wet herself from laughing so hard. I looked at her with my mouth open and finally stammered, “What are you laughing at? I just wrecked your car!” She said, still laughing, “Oh, Mark, if you could have seen your face when you hit that tree, you’d be laughing, too.” Then after I told her, my head in my hands, that I didn’t know how I would ever pay for the damages, she said the most shocking thing of all. “You will not pay for this. I will, and the only way anybody besides you and I will ever know about this is if you tell them.” Then she gave me a hug, we started cleaning up the mess together, and I understood the grace of God. My grandmother never spoke of it again, loved me just as much as before, and gave me much more than I deserved every day.

When I wrecked my life, slamming it into sin in more ways than I want to tell you about in this column, Jesus was right there, and he saw the whole thing. When I told him I didn’t know how I could ever pay for my sins against him, he said he had already taken care of it. He gave me grace, not just for salvation, but for every moment of every day that I will live and breathe this side of heaven. That grace was not free, just like that car repair in 1972 was not free. It cost Jesus his life to pay for my sins and to pay for the grace he would freely give me every day of my life. That is why I love him, and that is why I follow him. It is not ‘greasy grace’ or ‘sloppy agape,’ as we used to call it in the 1970’s. No, his grace does not give me license to live any way I want to live. Instead it gives me power to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

When I shared this story in Moldova in January in 8 different places, the people all laughed when my grandmother laughed. Then they got quiet as they understood that the grace that comes from Jesus Christ is not something they could ever earn. One man handed me a letter written in Romanian at the end of one of my seminars. After having it translated by someone there, I could read it for myself:

Dear Mark – thank you for taking the time and coming to teach about what is written in Scripture. I wanted to say that I understand grace better today. I knew that grace is a gift from the God most High, but never realized that it is not a reward. Today my eyes were opened to the truth even more. Thank you!  Sergiu

I am so thankful for my grandmother who taught me about grace, and to the Lord for his costly gift freely given every day. But I do remain very cautious when driving anywhere around pine trees.

 

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Mark Fox March 15, 2020