Monday, November 18, 2019

Make Your Soul Hungry by Feeding Your Soul

David said to God, “Early will I seek You.” That word can mean early in the day or it can mean early at a task. It can also mean ‘with earnest desire.’ Back in the day when there were children living in my house, if I called upstairs early in the morning with, “Hey, someone dropped off a gift for you during the night!” they would respond in a way that would satisfy both definitions of that word. My children would bound down the steps early and eagerly. The truth is, God says this every day to his people. He whispers into our souls, “Come into the family room with your Bible and listen to me as you read and see what treasures I have prepared for you.” Sadly, many just grunt, turn over on their sheets, and chase a fitful sleep again.

Not David. He said to God, “You are what my soul thirsts for and my flesh longs for.” Some of you men reading this will remember what it was like when you first fell in love with your wife. Your soul thirsted and your flesh longed. You could not wait to be with her, and every minute you were apart seemed like an eternity. We understand that when it comes to loving a person, but can we really learn to love God that way? Yes. In fact, it should be the normal state of the Christian, not the wild-eyed fanatical exception. Ok, you ask, how do I get there? Well, it starts with the obvious: you come to the Father only through the Son. You must have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. But Christians can dry up, too. How can we stay passionate for God?

David wrote, “So I have looked for you in the sanctuary.” David penned this Psalm in the wilderness, and to get his heart into worship mode, he remembered the times he’d enjoyed with his fellow believers in the sanctuary. Don’t get hung up on ‘sanctuary.’ A church can meet under a banyan tree, like some churches in Africa I have preached to, or in the most well-appointed auditorium. The point is not the edifice but the edification, the building up of the people of God, not the building. The aim is the glory given to God when his people come together in his name and hear his Word preached.

Why do we need to be together like this every Sunday? Because when we are in the wilderness, and sometimes we get there by the first coffee break on Monday morning, we need to be able to say, “O God, I remember what you spoke into my heart yesterday in the sermon; O God, I need to praise you now like I praised you in the sanctuary yesterday.” Why is our corporate worship so important? Because it is there every Sunday that we go hard after God as we look for him in the Word and we look at him in the songs and our hearts are trained to trust him and to praise him and to be satisfied in him alone. My dear readers who say, “I don’t need the church,” either do not know what the Bible plainly teaches on this or have rejected it altogether. If you do not long for these times together with the local church on Sundays, then I would exhort you with the authority of God’s Word that you are in danger of your soul drying up altogether. You may not be thirsty because you are beyond dehydration. You may not be hungry because you are beyond starvation. Those who stop eating eventually don’t want to eat and indeed, cannot eat.

Make your soul hungry by feeding your soul.

Monday, November 11, 2019

By Christianity, We See Everything Else

A few years ago, I encouraged some young people in a writing class to send letters to the editor, and gave them free range on topics. On the day they were all published, the editor included a note on the page indicating these were students in a class I taught. A week later, a woman wrote this to the Times-News: “Rev. Fox usually stays away from politics and writes about religion.”

There are at least three things wrong with that statement. The first bone I have to pick is with the title, “Rev. Fox.” I never use that title in correspondence. Most of the adults who know me call me Mark. A few call me Pastor Fox. Mrs. Johnson, the widow who used to live across the street when we were in Graham called me “Preacher Fox.” She would call often and ask me if I could come over and help her with something. One time she called because her TV wasn’t working, and when I got there she looked at me with sad old puppy dog eyes and said, “Preacher Fox, I can’t get my TV to come on, and you know I need to see my stories.” I told her not to worry and started trying to diagnose the problem as she walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. “Mrs. Johnson, come in here and I will show you what I found,” I said, after looking behind the TV. As she walked in, I held up the cord which had been unplugged and left lying on the floor. “Here’s your problem,” I said, looking into her eyes and watching her try not to smile as she said, “Oh, is that what it was? My goodness! Well, come into the kitchen and set a while. I poured us a Coke.” The thought of that dear lady, who was not petite by any stretch, crawling under that TV to unplug it so that she could have some company that morning still makes me smile, and a little sad, too. Back to the point. Widows sometimes call me Preacher Fox. My mom calls me her sweet boy. My kids call me Dad. My grandchildren call me Grandad. Only those who write letters to the newspaper to take me to task call me Rev. Fox. I am always a pastor, though not always a good one, but I never want to be known as Rev. Fox.

The second problem I have with the letter is more serious. Despite the obvious point that I actually wrote none of the letters, the dear lady said I usually write about religion. I don’t. “Religion” refers to every system of belief about a “higher power” in which the adherents to that belief try to “bind themselves” to the god whom they believe will somehow be impressed by their good deeds. That definition would cover every known man-made system of religion, but not Christianity. I write about Jesus Christ who is equal with God, came to earth as a man, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, took our sins upon Himself on the cross, and rose from the dead so that we, who have done absolutely nothing to impress God and never could, would by grace and through faith cross over from darkness to light, from death to life, and will one day live in eternity with God the Father and Jesus the Son.

The third problem I see is the idea that we “reverends” need to stick to religion. C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity like I believe in the sun, not only because I see it, but by it, I see everything else.” This is precisely why the followers of Jesus need to speak and write and teach from a biblical worldview on every single subject under the sun. It doesn’t mean that we know more than anyone else.

But we know the One who does.

Monday, November 4, 2019

This Is Our Logical Faith

I have always loved Paul’s logical argument for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I preached on it last week as we are working our way through 1 Corinthians. Was Jesus bodily raised from the dead? It is not an optional question you can choose to ignore. As Tim Keller says, the resurrection of Christ is “the hinge upon which the story of the world pivots.” Paul would agree, and he starts his argument with a question to the church then, and to the                                                                                                          world now: “How can some of                                                                                                      you say that there is no                                                                                                                resurrection of the dead?” 

We who believe in Christ accept the bodily resurrection of the dead without question. Most of the world then, and much of the world now, does not believe that physical resurrection is possible. When you’re dead, you’re dead, they say. One atheist explained it this way: He said, “Say I take Legos and build a car. I play with the car for a while, then I disassemble the car and use the same Legos to build a plane. Where did the car go? It ceased to exist. That is the end of our lives, as well.” If that is true, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Paul offers six conditional truths that follow, which can all be found in 1 Corinthians 15.

First, Christ has not been raised. It is simple logic, isn’t it? If resurrection is not possible, then it is not possible that Jesus was raised from the dead, and the whole thing is a hoax. The material of his body was simply disassembled by death and corruption. If that is true, that Christ has not been raised…

Second, preaching and faith are vain. Futile. Useless. What Paul preached in Corinth, and what we who believe in Christ preach is simply not worth believing.

Third, Paul and the other apostles lied about God. Every preacher since then who proclaims the risen Christ is a liar and is misrepresenting God and the truth about Jesus.

Fourth, your faith in Christ is worthless, and you are still in your sins. This takes the greatest news ever and makes it the worst news ever. My favorite Christmas carol would end in tragedy: “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail the Son of righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.” NO! No light, no life, no healing can come from the Son of God if he is not risen from the dead.

Fifth, those who have already died believing in Christ are lost forever. They have perished, despite the promise that Jesus made repeatedly, that those who believe in him will live again. That great promise he made to Nicodemus is also a lie: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” No! We will all perish, and life will be eternally lost.

Sixth, what we see is all there is, and we Christians are the most pathetic people on earth. If this life is all there is, we are the most deceived who follow Jesus. If this life is all there is, the disciples of Jesus Christ went to their brutal executions for nothing. If this life is all there is, 187,000 Christians are martyred every year…for no good reason.

Those are the conditional truths that logically follow the idea that there is no resurrection of the dead. Then Paul answers those conditional truths by blowing them all away with grounded truth: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to Peter, to the apostles, and to more than 500 people at one time, Paul wrote, most of whom are still alive. In other words, he told the people in Corinth that if they didn’t believe it, they should go talk to someone who saw Christ, who touched him, who ate with him, and who saw the nail scars in his hands.

Yes, the world is securely fastened to its hinge. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and he is Lord of all.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Your Words Can Change Lives

Sometimes on the last day of my Public Speaking class, we do impromptu speeches. When it is their turn to speak, each student will draw two topics out of an envelope. They select the one they want to speak about, and then they have two minutes to prepare a one-minute speech on the topic they chose. I also tell them that after they have all spoken, the class can choose any topic they want me to do (keep it clean! I say),                                                                                                                    and I will speak on it for one                                                                                                        minute, without preparation                                                                                                          and without notes. 

It is always a lot of fun, and I have been given some wild topics to speak on over the years. My favorite topic was in a class last spring, when they asked me to speak on the question, “Who is your favorite student?” This one surprised me, because I am usually asked to speak about, “Your most embarrassing moment,” or, “Your thoughts on safe sex,” or similar topics.

I said a quick prayer as I walked to the front, really not sure at all how I was going to handle this. I smiled and named the young man right in front of me as my “favorite,” and several students yelled, “I knew it!” I spoke for a few seconds about him, telling the class why this guy was the best.

Then I looked at the next student and said that she was my favorite student, and shared some things about why she comes out on top. When I looked at the student beside her and named him my favorite, the whole class burst into laughter. They realized that I was going to go through the whole class, and I watched them all settle into their seats with eager smiles, as they waited until it was their turn to be praised.

I had a blast doing that and got a round of applause and a few “thank-you” comments as they filed out. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about that exercise any, until this week, when I got an email from one of the students who was there that day. She gave me permission to use her comments in this column.

She wrote, “I’m not sure if you knew this about me but I am [a leader] in the school of communication. With this position I had to go on a retreat this weekend to the Outer Banks with the rest of the [student government leaders]. On this retreat we had an awesome presentation on how to deal with biases and pre-judgments and we talked about how that has affected our lives. I said how since I’m a girl with blonde hair and my big/hyper personality, people tend to have this idea that I’m not as smart or shallow. We reflected on this and talked about the best affirmation you’ve ever received. I will never forget the last day of class where you looked at me and said, ‘You are so smart.’ That was the first time a teacher has ever said that to me. It clearly stuck with me for a long time and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.

“I wanted to let you know how much that small compliment meant to me. I think sometimes people tend to forget how much their words have an impact on someone else positive or negative.”

My former student is right, and we all know it, don’t we? Our words are powerful, and can build up or tear down, and yet we are often much too careless about what we say and how we say it.

The Bible has much to say about our words, but a verse that says it clearly is this one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Lives are changed by grace, and grace-filled speech can bring healing and help. That is powerful truth, and news we can use.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Whatever Fills You Controls You

Once as a teenager I went on a double date with my cousin. Halfway through the date, I found out the girl I was with had an insanely jealous boyfriend named Marty. He was also big, she said. “And,” she added, “he has a nasty temper.” I figured that to be a deadly combination, so I filed that information away, reminding myself to avoid this boyfriend of hers at all costs. We were driving home later that night when all of a sudden my cousin said, “Uh-oh.” 

“What’s the problem?” I asked, thinking maybe we were running out of gas. “Don’t look now,” he said, “but Marty is right on our tail.” I looked anyway and saw a car about two inches from our bumper, and we were doing 60 miles an hour on the interstate.

Now, up until this point I had only done one thing I regretted, and that was to go out with this girl in the first place. But now I became a willing participant in a series of stupid mistakes. May I say to any teens who happen to be reading this: “Don’t try this at home ... or on the interstate.” My cousin floored the car, a 1972 Camaro Z-28, and we took off like a rocket. We were going over 90 with Marty right on our tail, and it is only by the grace of God, gentle readers, that I am here to tell the story.

We finally reached our exit, careened onto the ramp, and headed for my cousin’s house. Marty was only seconds behind us. My cousin realized we weren’t going to outrun him, so he said something like, “Good luck, Mark,” as we screamed into his driveway on two wheels. I was shaking with adrenalin and fear, and could hear the words “big ... nasty temper ... insanely jealous” reverberating in my skull. My legs felt like jelly, and my mouth was dry as dust.

About that time my cousin slammed on the brakes in his carport, and I managed to fall out of the car to face my attacker, who was leaping from his car as it slid to a stop in the driveway.

Now you have to realize that at this time in my life I had not yet had my growth spurt. In fact, I still haven’t had it, but I was a skinny 16-year-old then, only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, and maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. As I recall it, Marty seemed to tower over me by at least a foot. But what I remember most of all was the purple rage that consumed him. He was so filled with wrath that he had no control of his body. He couldn’t swing his fists because his anger controlled them. He couldn’t speak, but sputtered and spat, because the anger had his tongue. As he stumbled toward me I bent over, and he pounded me on my back. The blows were nothing, dissipated by the rage that shook Marty like a ragdoll.

I saw something that day I will never forget. Whatever fills you controls you, whether it is wine, anger, lust or greed. That’s why the Bible says, “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go.” And, “Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled with the Spirit.”

After the dust cleared and the rage subsided that day, Marty and I had a friendly exchange. He gave me my life back, and I gave him his girlfriend. Seemed like the right thing at the time.

Monday, October 14, 2019

What Can Be Worse Than Unbelief?

Imagine this scenario. A man has a teenager who, since he was a child, has been subject to violent seizures. His mouth foams and his teeth grind and his body bucks and lurches, raging with convulsion. The young man is deaf and unable to speak. He cannot talk to his father about the terror that he feels, never knowing when the next attack will occur. He cannot hear his father’s cries of anguish as he prays for his son. He can see his face, though, and the lines of worry have grown deeper on his father’s brow. His hair is gray and his shoulders are stooped and his hope is almost gone. The father has to watch his son every second because the attacks have happened frequently near fire or water and dragging his son from the flames or from the deep has taken its toll on both of them. The scars from the burns are testimonies to the torment a father and his son have endured together. How much longer?

You don’t have to imagine this scene. You can read about it in Mark 9. The story is true. The young man was not just under attack; the source was a demon. When his father heard that Jesus was passing through the region, he had hope for the first time, perhaps, in many years. He took his son to see Jesus, only to find that the Master and His three closest disciples were not there. The father turned to Jesus’ other disciples for help. They tried, but they failed. As the religious leaders of the day taunted the nine and argued with them, Jesus showed up on the scene. This is where the story really gets interesting.

As soon as the demon in the young man sees Jesus, he throws his host into a convulsion. The word in the text literally means the demon “tore him from side to side.” The young man fell on the ground at Jesus’ feet, his mouth foaming and his teeth grinding. Jesus asked the father how long this had been happening to his son, and the man replied, “From childhood.” The he said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds with the man’s own words: “If you can!” Then He added, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The man cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Now, you have to get this picture clear in your mind. This man’s son is possessed and has almost been destroyed many times by a demon. The father is desperate for his son’s deliverance. Jesus sees that. He sees the son writhing at His feet. In perhaps the most astonishing triage in history, Jesus decides that the immediate need is not the son but the father. The greatest evil was not in the boy but in the man. Even the father saw it.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It is very noticeable that the man did not say, ‘Lord I believe; help my child!’ Not at all. He perceives that his own unbelief is harder to overcome than the demon. And that to heal him of his spiritual disease was a more needful work than even to heal his child of the sad malady under which he labored.”

Jesus had compassion on the man as He spoke to his unbelief, and compassion on his son as He delivered him to wholeness.

What can be worse than unbelief? Not even a demon. The evil spirit may kill your body, but unbelief will do much worse.