Monday, December 31, 2012

Random thoughts on the doorstep of 2013

As we stand at the door of 2013, I would like to offer some random thoughts that may encourage you, make you smile or even give you a nudge in a healthy direction.

It was the day after Christmas at a church in California. Pastor Mike was looking at the Nativity scene outside when he noticed the baby Jesus was missing. He looked around in the straw, and not finding the baby there, Mike began a slow walk around the bushes nearby, wondering if someone had tossed infant Jesus there as a prank. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a child round the corner while pulling a red wagon. In the wagon was the missing figure of the Christ child. Pastor Mike walked over and said, “Hey, Jimmy, where did you get the baby Jesus?” Jimmy pointed at the Nativity scene, “I got him from right over there.” Pastor Mike said, “And why did you take him?” With a sheepish smile, Jimmy replied, “Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to little Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.”

Though our prayers get more mature as we grow in Christ, may our faith be like that of a little child.

We can learn about listening from the shepherds. I never noticed until this year, as I read the story from Luke 2 for the umpteenth time, that the shepherds on the Judean hillside did not speak until the angels had gone away into heaven. Not a mumbling word. They just listened in stunned silence. They didn’t interrupt the angel when he told them about the good news of great joy. They didn’t ask a question. They gave their ears as the one angel was joined by a battalion who cried out, “Glory to God in the highest!” The proof that the shepherds not only heard the angels, but actually listened to them, is found in their response. After the angels went away into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” These men all knew where the baby was and why he was worth leaving everything to go and see him, and it was made possible because they had listened. John Wayne used to say that most of us are short on ears and long on mouth. Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” James said, “Let every man be quick to hear and slow to speak.”

Listen. It’s a good thing to practice this year, and not just when angels show up.

We can also learn about worship from the shepherds. They hurried and found the manger and saw the promised Messiah with their own eyes. They left there “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Not only that, the shepherds’ worship did what all worship is supposed to do. It became mission. They told everyone who would listen about the angels and about the baby. It is true that Mary was the first one to “carry the Good News,” but the shepherds were the first human beings to proclaim it. Worship, seeing Christ, will always result in mission, telling his story, and telling your story as you have heard and seen for yourself that God is good. Worship Jesus. Is there anything more important for us in 2013? Have a happy and blessed new year.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can Tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Advent Giveaway: Week 4

Well, this is it. The big shebang! This year Zondervan takes the honor of being our final grand finale giveaway, thanks largely in part to the fact they they were the ones that released the Theologian Trading Cards, developed by our very own Norman Jeune III.

And yes, this week we're giving away a set of Theologian Trading Cards.

Also up for grabs are eight other books (actually two copies of four different books) from Zondervan which we'll be giving away in pairs, so five winners in all! Those four books are:
  • The Next Story - Tim Challies
  • Think Christianly - Jonathan Morrow
  • Love Without Walls - Laurie Beshore
  • Adventures In Churchland - Dan Kimball
Update: For some reason, this post didn't show up on some of our feeds, so I've re-published it and extended the giveaway to the end of the year! (For those of you who got entries in already, don't worry. They're still in the system.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The world changed forever that night

It was the night of nights. There was an appearance like none the world had ever seen. There was an announcement like none the world had ever heard. There was adulation like none the world had ever experienced. And the world was forever changed.

The shepherds were watching their flocks that night. That’s all. Just a normal night for a shepherd. Maybe they were glad to have sheep to watch. Maybe they were wishing they had something else to do for a living that wasn’t so cold and didn’t smell like sheep. It was quiet. And dark. Then everything changed in an instant as the sky lit up when an angel of the Lord appeared. The angel was not there. Then he was. It wasn’t like the shepherds looked way off in the distance and saw a dim light moving in their direction. Like one turned to the other and said, “Hey, Levi. What’s that coming yonder?” Levi answered, “Don’t know, Jake. But it’s headin’ this way, and I’m getting’ just a mite skeered.” No. They didn’t see the angel approaching. There was no warning whatsoever. The angel was on them in an instant. And, “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” The shepherds were not slightly amused. Or curious. Or mildly irritated. They were terrified. The pictures that men have painted of this scene over the years are almost comical. They often portray the shepherds as rough-hewn burly men, and the angels as delicate women with curls and rosy cheeks and wings. The paintings often make you wonder, who was afraid of whom? The paintings make you think the shepherds should be saying to the angel, “Don’t be afraid little lady. Us big ol’ shepherds won’t hurt you. Come on down here and don’t be shy. You can talk to strangers. It’s OK.” Again I say, no! The angel was awesome and the shepherds were terrified. “Filled with great fear,” Luke said. It was the night of nights and the appearance of an angel changed everything. Because he came with news.

The angel said, “Do not fear, for I bring you good news of great joy!” Do you see that? It is the good news that is not only the answer to all of our fears but is the source of all our joy. All our fears: gone. All our joy: now here. Who? Where? The angel answers their questions before the shepherds can ask. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The one who is born in Bethlehem that night was Savior and Christ. You could say that is what Jesus came to do on earth: to save us from our sins as the Christ, the Anointed One, the sacrifice. But he came from heaven as Lord. The angel might as well have said, “That’s who he is. He is Lord! He made you. He made everything you see and everything you cannot see. Jesus, born in a manger, is Lord.”

And with that, the one angel was joined by a battalion of angels, and they all began to praise God. It was adulation like none the world had ever experienced, as these angels joined the chorus, exalting God for this night of nights, when the plan of salvation was revealed to a few lowly shepherds on a Judean hillside.

Here we are today. Still celebrating that first Christmas, when Jesus came as Savior, Christ, and Lord, and we were given all we would ever need.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can tweet him @jmarkfox and can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The depths of Christ in the face of tragedy

A football player commemorates the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
I must confess, I avoid the 24-hour news cycle like the plague. Not that I'm totally ignorant of world events; I read the paper most days of the week and get my news almost exclusively from print sources and their online counterparts. So if the television is on in my home this time of year, odds are good that there's football being played somewhere.

But there are times when a tragedy of such crushing proportions forces itself upon us that even such escapist events as pro sports cannot help but address it, as was the case this weekend with the shooting in Connecticut. Yet I was struck with the inept and impotent sentiments offered on the television and radio, the inability of our religiously sterile and safe culture to deal adequately with such a tragedy. I do not say this with condescension but compassion. In the effort to not offend anyone, we also do not console anyone.

Thus I was reminded of the depths we have in Christ to make sense of, suffer through, and respond to such catastrophic events.

1. Instead of just "sending thoughts", we can pray. This was the sentiment I heard most often this weekend. Yet I was struck with the great irony that more than one sports commentator accurately pointed out: sports is a distraction—an escape—in such tragic circumstances. So "we send you our thoughts" and then we try to forget about it all. 

I'm not sure what they think our thoughts do, but I know what our prayers do. More importantly, I know who's on the other end of those prayers interceding for us. And I know who's Spirit dwells in and prays for us when we do not know what to pray.
    What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
    (Romans 8:31-35 ESV)
2. Instead of just making excuses for the killer, we can be honest about evil. He was depressed. He came from a broken home. He was an outcast in school. He was abused, neglected, abandoned. I'm not sure if any of these things are true since they're all off the top of my head, but these are all the sorts of things said when something like this happens. But in trying to explain the motive, are we trying to avoid the underlying problem that is always there: sin and evil? Are we denying the "banality of evil" as Hannah Arendt succinctly put it when she studied the perpetrators of the atrocities during the Holocaust? The frightening thing about evil is not that it's exceptional. No, quite the opposite. It is common. It is ordinary. It's your neighbor. It is us.

This world is broken, humanity is fallen. No one goes untouched or unscathed. Sin is real and it's in all of us.
    And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
    (Ephesians 2:1-5 ESV)

3. Instead of just raging against injustice, we can rest in God's righteous judgment. For many people, any murder/suicide is infuriating because the killer does not get to "face justice". He's taking the easy way out. But this falsely assumes that we humans are better equipped to exact justice than is God. This is not to deny the need for courts, the prison system, and even capital punishment, but it is a reminder that when someone bypasses everything else, they cannot bypass the justice of God.
    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)
4. Instead of just growing hard, we can be softened through tragedy. If you live in this world long enough you learn coping mechanisms for such tragedies. Some escape through alcohol, drugs, sports and other banal distractions. Some deny its reality and explain it away. Yet others grow hard to the world to avoid the constant pain. Christians are called to do something utterly different and utterly counterintuitive: we let it make us soft. Let it drive our compassion for victims. Let is spur our passion for the gospel for sinners. Let it ignite our pursuit of justice. And let is spark our cry with the Apostle Paul, the Spirit and the Bride, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
(Revelation 21:4-5 ESV)

5. Instead of just panicking, we can trust God's sovereignty. I felt it in myself when I heard of the shooting. My first thought was to my three year-old daughter, to her great vulnerability in a dangerous world. And I wanted to save her from it all. Yet this response is similar the third in the list: just as we subtly assume we are better equipped than God to judge the wicked, we can also begin to think we are better equipped than God to protect the innocent.
    “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
    (Matthew 18:10-14 ESV)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas touches our need for transcendence

Why is Christmas more popular than it has ever been, while Christ, at the same time, is more ignored, if not vilified? Why is it that more and more people in our society say they do not believe in the Christian God, but interest in the “paranormal” is greater than ever? I had a student a few weeks ago ask the class how many of us believe in ghosts. She was going to do a persuasive speech on it and wanted to find out where her audience stood on the issue. There were 20 students and I in the class, and all but four of us raised our hands. “You don’t believe in ghosts, Professor Fox?” she asked me. “Well, I believe in the Holy Ghost,” I said. “Also known as the Holy Spirit. I know there are spirits that were created by God, and are called angels and demons.” Her eyes got big and she said, “You believe in demons? Have you, uh, you know, have you ever done an exorcism?” I told her that I do believe in angels and demons, and though I have never done an exorcism, I have seen a few people in other countries who were demon-possessed. At least, that is what the pastors in those areas told me, and the persons did seem to exhibit the same signs that demon-possessed people had in the Bible. My student was not done yet. She said, with a face that said “interested,” not “antagonistic,” “How do you know? I mean, how do you know there are demons?” I replied, “Because that’s what the Bible plainly teaches.”

Peter Berger, a well-known sociologist and professor emeritus at Boston University, identifies five facts about human behavior that, in his view, indicate the existence of God. He calls them “signals of transcendence” in his book, “Rumors of Angels.” The first is humanity’s passion for order, which Berger says points to a Designer. The second is our desire for play, which derives from our longing for eternal joy. Then there is our innate commitment to hope, because we will not believe that death has the final word. Berger wrote, “In a world where man is surrounded by death on all sides, he continues to be a being who says ‘no!’ to death — and through this ‘no’ is brought to faith in another world, the reality of which would validate his hope as something other than an illusion.” Fourth is our belief in the necessity of damnation for true evil. Berger wrote, “For instance, could there have been an earthly punishment sufficient for the heinous activity of the WWII Nazis? There are certain deeds that cry out to heaven... these deeds are not only evil, but monstrously evil.” Finally, there is the argument from humor. Berger says that when we laugh at our limitations, it is because we know that this imprisonment is not final, but will be overcome.

The Bible says, “God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” There is a longing in every creature for something more than this, a longing for the transcendence that can only be realized in God. That’s why Christmas is so popular, even among a people who have largely rejected the story behind the season. At the same time that they deny the Bethlehem baby his place in their hearts or in the city square, they long for everything he came to earth to bring us.

The light of Christmas shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. The darker the room, the brighter the candle.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can tweet him @jmarkfox and you can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Giveaway: Week 3


Two weeks down, two to go. This week's sponsor is Bethany House and they've generously donated ten books for our Advent Giveaway. And the prizes keep getting bigger, so we're giving two books to five winners.

The highlight of these books (in my completely subjective opinion) is The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler. This book has appeared on several of the 2012 Top Book lists, including Tony Reinke at Desiring God blog and Tim Challies (on the Challies blog, of course). In his review, Challies offered this high praise:
"What I appreciate most is that Mohler takes the massive amount of scholarship and popular-level writing on leadership, extracts what is most valuable, and then sets it all in the context of Scripture. From the first page to the last, he is applying Scripture to leadership, crafting an understanding that is thoroughly and completely biblical. This book is truly gospel-centered; the gospel is not appended to the book, but at its heart."
The other books up for grabs are Jesus by Wayne Cordeiro, Pocket Your Dollars by Carrie Rocha, Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson, and A Woman’s Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year by Diane Stortz. Good luck!


This giveaway has ended.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chalcedon and Your Christmas


Whether you realize it or not, this Christmas season you are very dependent upon the Council of Chalcedon if you are a Biblical Christian. I do not mean to say or imply that the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation is not clearly contained and defined in the Word of God. Quite the opposite, the virgin birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the eternal Son of God and Christ being like us in 100% true humanity are all doctrines clearly articulated in the Word of God.

Yet, clearly the early church struggled to articulate this as views arouse that were not in keeping with the truth of Scripture. How is it that God became human? How does the humanity and deity come together? 

The early church struggled with some of the articulation of this as church fathers debated against aberrant views. In 451 AD it became necessary for a church council. The Council of Nicea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD) had already clarified the Bible’s teaching for the whole church that Jesus Christ was truly God and equal with the Father. But in the next century the issue of how Christ’s deity united with His humanity became the crucial issue.

As one scholar writes “Chalcedon is the place in ‘the history of Christian thought where the New Testament compound was explicated in exact balance so as to discourage the four favorite was by which the divine and human ‘energies’ of the Christ event are commonly misconstrued.’” (John Leith, Creeds of the Churches, p. 35, quoting Albert Outlier).

Every time you and I reflect this Christmas season on how the Word became flesh and that Jesus was truly God and truly man, we are indebted not only to the Word of God but also the Council of Chalcedon.

As Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary has recently argued in his book The Creedal Imperative, creeds bring strength to the church and solve debates over the meaning of what Scripture is saying. Creeds are not unbiblical nor are they subbiblical. Creeds are not an authority over Scripture but an attempt to summarize, clarify and expound what Scripture says. The one who argues “I have no creed but the Bible” ironically is being swept away by more current traditions than the one who says “I believe this creed accurately summarizes core Biblical doctrine.”

When you and I come to Christmas, we need to remember who Jesus is (the Son of God) and what he became in the fullness of time (truly human). But how does the divine nature and the human nature come together?

The Bible is clear in its teaching Jesus is truly God. He always was and is truly God. So whatever Jesus does in the act of His coming, we need to be clear that He does not set aside His nature, divine attributes, or divinity. He cannot be truly God, who is unchanging, if He can take deity off like a coat.

But equally true, Jesus cannot truly redeem us if He does not assume our nature. I believe it was one of the Cappodocian Fathers who said “What is not assumed cannot be healed.” Therefore, as Hebrews teaches us, He had to become like us in all things. He had to take on 100% of human nature, yet of course he was without sin since sin was not intrinsic to human nature as God created it.

But how does the divine and human come together? Is Jesus a sort of God-man hybrid? Is he a third thing, a tertium quid? Is Jesus being the God-man sort of a Jewish Hercules?

When I was teaching as a youth pastor, on occasion I would say “Jesus Christ is not Chocolate Milk.” When you mix chocolate syrup (and please use quality stuff like Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup) with milk you get a new product. The chocolate milk contains chocolate and it contains milk. But because of the mixture it is neither pure or fully chocolate, nor is it any longer pure or fully milk. It is a third thing--a tertium quid.

When the divine nature and the human nature come together in the person of Jesus, Jesus Christ is not chocolate millk, i.e. a tertium quid. IF he was then he'd be not quite fully human and not quite fully divine, but a combination.

Enter the doctrine that is crucial for Christmas: the hypostatic union. When the divine and human nature unite in the person of Jesus Christ each retains fully all of its characteristics, properties and attributes. There is no mixture of the two nor degradation of either one. There is a union of the two so that both come together without any changing of attributes or ‘watering down’ of characteristics.

Christ’s humanity is not “added to" because He also is divine. Nor is His deity reduced as if humanity somehow dilutes His divinity. 

When you think of Jesus in the manager, you are to believe that He was at that moment truly God--upholding the world by the word of His mighty power. But at that same moment He was also truly man being held in His mother’s arms, consenting to be weak in His humanity. The one who was sustaining creation in His deity at the same moment needed in the humanity that He took on to be sustained by His mother’s milk.

This is a tremendous mystery, but it is what the Bible portrays. It is also a cause for great worship, marveling and standing at awe before the one who is truly God and truly man. It truly makes Christmas worthy of celebration.

This Christmas, as you think of these truth, you are indebted to Chalcedon.

The Creed says:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather of the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
The most important words of the creed are arguably: “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather of the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person...”

I for one am very thankful for the conciseness and clarity of these words. While I submit the Creed to the authority of Scripture, I find that this crystalizes and succinctly states that which the Scripture portray. 

My Christmas reflections into the Word of God and the marvelous acts of that first Christmas are guided and guarded by the words of Chalcedon.

It means something powerful to say that Jesus was truly God yet He assumed true humanity. Praise the Lord, his deity was not diminished. When we sing the words “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity,” we readily know and understand that it was an assumption of true humanity. To see Jesus was to see the glory of God. 

When you sing carols with words like this, whether or not you know it you are indebted to Chalcedon. Chalcedon is of course itself indebted to Scripture.

The wondrous mystery of God incarnate is why the angels appear to the Shepherds and praise God. This is why the Magi bring gifts and bow before the King.

Chalcedon’s Creed is a powerful reflection on the meaning of Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa Christ?

This is an excerpt from an article by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson that first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine in December 1997. It is now a chapter by the same name in Dr. Ferguson's book In Christ Alone

It is always easier to lament and critique the new paganism of secularism’s blatant idolatry than to see how easily the church — and we ourselves — twist or dilute the message of the incarnation in order to suit our own tastes. But, sadly, we have various ways of turning the Savior into a kind of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus Christianity

 

For one thing, in our worship at Christmas we may varnish the staggering truth of the incarnation with what is visually, audibly, and aesthetically pleasing. We confuse emotional pleasure — or worse, sentiment — with true adoration.

For another thing, we may denigrate our Lord with a Santa Claus Christology. How sadly common it is for the church to manufacture a Jesus who is a mirror refection of Santa Claus. He becomes Santa Christ.

Santa Christ is sometimes a Pelagian Jesus. Like Santa, he simply asks us whether we have been good. More exactly, since the assumption is that we are all naturally good, Santa Christ asks us whether we have been “good enough.” So just as Christmas dinner is simply the better dinner we really deserve, Jesus becomes a kind of added bonus who makes a good life even better. He is not seen as the Savior of helpless sinners.

Or Santa Christ may be a Semi-Pelagian Jesus — a slightly more sophisticated Jesus who, Santa-like, gives gifts to those who have already done the best they could! Thus, Jesus’ hand, like Santa’s sack, opens only when we can give an upper-percentile answer to the none-too-weighty probe, “Have you done your best this year?” The only difference from medieval theology here is that we do not use its Latin phraseology: facere quod in se est (to do what one is capable of doing on one’s own, or, in common parlance, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”).

Then again, Santa Christ may be a mystical Jesus, who, like Santa Claus, is important because of the good experiences we have when we think about him, irrespective of his historical reality. It doesn’t really matter whether the story is true or not; the important thing is the spirit of Santa Christ. For that matter, while it would spoil things to tell the children this, everyone can make up his or her own Santa Christ. As long as we have the right spirit of Santa Christ, all is well.

But Jesus is not to be identified with Santa Claus; worldly thinking — however much it employs Jesus-language — is not to be confused with biblical truth.

The Christ of Christmas

 

The Scriptures systematically strip away the veneer that covers the real truth of the Christmas story. Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil (Matt. 1:21; 1 John 3:8b).
  • Those whose lives were bound up with the events of the first Christmas did not find His coming an easy and pleasurable experience.
  • Mary and Joseph’s lives were turned upside down.
  • The shepherds’ night was frighteningly interrupted, and their futures potentially radically changed.
  • The magi faced all kinds of inconvenience and family separation.
  • Our Lord Himself, conceived before wedlock, born probably in a cave, would spend His early days as a refugee from the bloodthirsty and vindictive Herod (Matt. 2:13-21).

There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions. It had to be thus, for He did not come merely to add something extra to life, but to deal with our spiritual insolvency and the debt of our sin. He was not conceived in the womb of Mary for those who have done their best, but for those who know that their best is “like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6)—far from good enough—and that in their flesh there dwells no good thing (Rom. 7:18). He was not sent to be the source of good experiences, but to suffer the pangs of hell in order to be our Savior.

You can read this article in it's entirety at the Ligonier Ministries blog

Monday, December 10, 2012

It is more profitable than making money

It is more profitable than making money. It is more profitable than watching TV or checking Facebook. It is more profitable than traveling the globe. It is more profitable than anything else in the world. It is a hammer that breaks the rock to pieces. It is a fire that refines. It is a two-edged sword that pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow. It is able to make the simple wise. It is able to discern the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. It feeds our soul like bread feeds our body. It is the Word of God, breathed out by him through the personalities and pens of 40 different authors and preserved through the centuries for you and me and future generations. When people tell me they are struggling to find time to fit reading the Bible into their schedule, much less studying, meditating and memorizing, I know they simply do not understand this powerful truth: The Word of God is profitable. It is an astounding promise of God.


Not only that, through the Word we are “equipped for every good work.” Another astounding promise of Scripture. In other words, every good thing God asks us to do, the Scripture equips us to do. The Word of God does this for us, not by giving us lists to follow. How many know there is not a list anywhere in Scripture of how to prepare your sons and daughters for marriage? But the truth and the principles are there in the Bible. There is not a list anywhere that tells you how to open your own business. But the truth and the principles are there. There is no list in the Bible that tells an actor how to practice his craft and trade. But the truth and the principles are there. In a recent “Denison Forum,” a weekly cultural commentary written by Dr. Jim Denison, he wrote about Angus Jones, one of the young stars of the TV show, “Two and a Half Men.” Jones apparently has gone though a spiritual renewal recently and released a video where he urges people not to watch his show: “Please stop watching ‘Two and a Half Men.’ I’m on ‘Two and a Half Men,’ and I don’t want to be on it. ... Please stop filling your head with filth ... It’s bad news. I don’t know if it means any more, coming from me, but you might not have heard it otherwise. So just watch out.” He was asked, “Will you resign from the show?” Jones replied, “I am under contract for another year, so it is not too much of a decision on my part. I know God has me there for a reason for another year.” Denison writes, “His situation is not unique: a person whose growing faith conflicts with his or her job. There are very few professions without moral dilemmas for sincere Christians. If we stay, are we condoning what we should condemn? If we quit, does our witness leave with us?”

Should a Christian obey his supervisor when he is told to lie on a work order, or use a knock-off product and charge for the original? The Word answers that question.

The Bible is profitable. Always. It changes hearts and minds. It also gives us direction and wisdom when we face a moral or an ethical dilemma.

As D.L. Moody said about the Bible, “This book will keep you from sin; or sin will keep you from this book.” Start reading it today!

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can tweet him @jmarkfox and you can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Giveaway: Week 2

Every time we do a giveaway I am struck with moments of jealousy because I can't enter and win whatever it is we're giving away. This week happens to be one of those moments. Crossway is our sponsor this week and they've given us a great lineup of books, capped off by their latest Bible: the ESV Global Study Bible. (For details, a cool little video, and 40% off retail visit our friends at WTSbooks.com).

And if you don't happen to win, consider picking up an ESV Global Study Bible on your own dime. Crossway has a cool Buy One, Give One offer through which, "for every copy purchased, Crossway will distribute a digital copy free to a Christian somewhere in the world. With this unique global strategy, everyone who buys a copy of the Global Study Bible will have a small part in 'equipping the global church through God’s Word.'"

In addition to the ESV Global Study Bible, here are the other books up for grabs to five lucky winners:
  • Loving the Way Jesus Loves - Philip Ryken
  • Sensing Jesus - Zachary Eswine
  • The Hole In Our Holiness - Kevin DeYoung
  • The Explicit Gospel - Matt Chandler & Jared Wilson

This giveaway has ended.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: Carson's Jesus: The Son of God

D.A. Carson has written a helpful little book that will be of interest to pastors, missionaries, Bible students and aspiring theologians. This book was originally given as a short lecture series delivered at Reformed Theological Seminary, then repeated at Westminster Theological Seminary and Colloque Réformée held in Lyon, France. It is a helpful albeit brief examination of the title Son of God and its relationship to Christology. As we would expect from Dr. Carson it is a model of solid exegesis in order to address pressing theological issues. 

The first chapter is an examination of the title “Son of God” as a christological title. In this brief lecture Carson gives us a scope of the varied uses of the idiom ‘son of’ and how it is translated into English. Here he quickly condenses a lot of Biblical data into general categories. His larger point is that the phrase “son of” is more than a reference to genetic and familial identity as often limited in the English usage of such a phrase. This data is placed into two helpful charts on pages 21 and 23-24.

This discussion lays the groundwork for discussing how “Son of God” itself is used a title in various ways in some cases referring to angels, Israel, the Davidic King and New Testament believers. Anyone familiar with the Biblical data and the Biblical semantics will already be abreast with this treatment. Nevertheless, this work gives one a general survey and could serve as an introduction to the topic. Chapter one concludes with a brief reference to the unique use of the title Son of God, which will build into the next chapter.

Chapter two is a treatment of select ‘Son of God’ passages as it relates to Christ. The bulk of the chapter is spent in Hebrews 1 and John 5:16-30. Along the way, Carson will drop hints of what his argument would look like if sketched out in the Gospels and other New Testament books. Carson clearly shows how the title ‘Son of God’ as a Davidic reference comes together with a clear reference to deity. So for example, in Hebrews 1, Son of God clearly has a Davidic referent--that Jesus is the Messiah. But the flow of the passage and the use of the Old Testament clearly identifies Jesus as God. Thus, sonship language referring to Jesus “cannot be restricted to a strictly Davidic-messianic horizon” (59). This is not a novel thesis to those familiar with Biblical studies. However, Carson’s work serves as a healthy introduction to the issues.

Chapter 2 ends with a briefer discussion of John 5:16-30. Carson argues that 5:26 where the Father grants the quality of life-in-himself is an eternal grant from the Father to the Son. This sets some exegetical grounds for what becomes known in historical theology as ‘the eternal generation of the Son.’ It is in this discussion, to which Carson will return in the third chapter, that Carson models the connection between exegesis and systematic theology. This modeling will serve students, pastors and even Biblical scholars adverse to making systematizing claims.

In the final chapter, Carson turns his attention to the theological use of the title ‘Son of God’ to tackle a pressing missiological issue that has arisen. In recent years, some Bible translators have suggested that in Muslim contexts the title ‘Son of God’ should not be translated as such because of the potential misunderstanding. Depending on the verse, these translators often suggest a title that emphasizes Jesus’ messianic identity. While the Christian title ‘Son of God’ has never meant God the Father produced a son in union with Mary, seeking to avoid the title to correct this misunderstanding will lead to misunderstandings of its own. Carson draws out the pitfalls and reductionism such translation creates. Carson argues that one cannot reduce a translation of ‘Son of God’ to messianic identity precisely because the New Testament especially in Hebrews 1 uses Messianic identity together with divine identity. In one chapter we have “two analytically differentiable uses of ‘Son’ terminology” (p.106).

Overall, there is a lot of content back in this short book. It is a solid argument that moves along. Readers unfamiliar with the issues will receive a good introduction. The only criticism of this work that I would offer is its brevity. At times I found myself wishing that certain points could be developed more or that certain areas or works of scholarship could receive interaction. Along the way, Carson himself drops hints of what we be needed to fully defend his case or what other twists and turns the argument could take. One would hope that perhaps Carson would consider expanding this work into a full blown scholarly monograph. This is not to take away from the strength of what he has produced.

I would highly recommend picking up this work and reading it.


I wish to thank Crossway books for providing a review copy of this work. A favorable review was not a condition of review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

John Calvin has a pitching coach and Origen is on the injured list...


Some people just get what you're trying to do- this man gets it. Yeah, there's the learning piece, but lets have a little fun here people! Mark's take on childhood memories, the all-star game, and perhaps a little Sportscenter. Let the nerdiness begin!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bad News: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

Here's an Advent reflection for you: John Piper's tells us why Santa coming to town is not good news, but why the coming of Jesus Christ is.

HT: JT

Monday, December 3, 2012

Here’s some tips to develop a thankful heart

I know Thanksgiving is over, but it’s really not. Not according to the Bible. The Word says these three things are the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Notice that the Bible doesn’t teach us to wait until we “feel” thankful. The command is to the will, so we don’t “feel” our way into giving thanks; we “give thanks” our way into feeling grateful. I know that is bad grammar, but it is also good theology. So the question is, why are we so often found outside his will? Put another way, what are the reasons we are not thankful? It may be that we ascribe everything that happens in our lives either to luck, to fate, to self-effort or to a mystical combination of all three. The Bible teaches us, however, that God is the Sovereign Lord of all creation, and the giver of every good gift. May I suggest a few practical steps we can take toward developing a heart of thanksgiving?

First, make a list of the top 10 things or people on your “I am thankful” list. Second, thank God for each one of your top 10. Each one is a work of God, whether you are thankful for his forgiveness or whether you are thankful for your wife. I love Brad Paisley’s song, “Waitin’ on a Woman.” A young man sits down at the mall next to an old man and they get to talking, since they have nothing else to do: They are waiting on their wives, who are shopping. The old man says, “Son, since 1952 I’ve been waitin’ on a woman. When I picked her up for our first date, I told her I’d be there at 8, and she came down the stairs at 8:30. She said, ‘I’m sorry that I took so long, didn’t like a thing that I tried on.’ But, let me tell you son, she sure looked pretty, Yeah, she’ll take her time but I don’t mind, Waitin’ on a woman.” Then the last verse says, “I’ve read somewhere statistics show, the man’s always the first to go. And that makes sense, ’cause I know she won’t be ready. So, when it finally comes my time, and I get to the other side, I’ll find myself a bench, if they’ve got any. I hope she takes her time, ’cause I don’t mind, waitin’ on a woman.” Hey men, maybe listening to that song once a week would help you be more grateful for your wives, even if they are the “never on time” type.

Third, tell the people on your list how much you are thankful for them. They need to hear it. We need to say it.

Finally, make a list of every circumstance from this past year that would never come close to making your top 10 list. Maybe you had a health problem. An accident. A broken relationship. A financial setback. Even an election that didn’t go your way. Now, give thanks in every circumstance, just like the Bible says to do. We say we believe in the sovereignty of God. And that he is good and does good. Then we get sick and we cannot believe what is happening. And everything turns inward. Giving thanks in every circumstance is a way of forcing our hands to unclench, our arms to open up, and our hearts to be clear.

O Lord, you have given so much to us. Give us one thing more: a thankful heart.

J. Mark Fox is the author of “A Faithful Man,” his latest book, and the pastor of Antioch Community Church on Power Line Road in Elon. You can tweet him @jmarkfox, you can find all of Mark’s books on Amazon or other online sellers. Email Mark at markfox@antiochchurch.cc

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Giveaway: Week 1

And so we begin the Advent Giveaway 2012! Our first week of giveaways is made possible by the generous folks at Cruciform Press. We've been honored to partner with Cruciform Press in various ways over the past couple of years, from our Advent Giveaway last year to simple book reviews. You can visit them at CruciformPress.com and follow them on Twitter.


 Here are the six books up for grabs this week:
  • Cruciform: Living the Cross Shaped Life, by Jimmy Davis
  • "But God": The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel, by Casey Lute
  • Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage, by Joel Beeke
  • The Organized Heart: A Woman's Guide to Conquering Chaos, by Staci Eastin
  • Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father, Dan Cruver, Editor, John Piper, Scotty Smith, Rick Phillips, Jason Kovacs, Contributors
  • Smooth Stones: Bringing Down the Giant Questions of Apologetics, by Joe Coffey
We will be drawing six winners at the end of the week, so that gives you plenty of time to like, tweet, and otherwise tell all your friends about the giveaway (and in doing so, get more entries for yourself). For those of you who don't win, and just in time for the Christmas gift-giving season, Cruciform Press is running a sale on eleven of their titles. All eleven titles are $5.99 (minimum purchase of 3) through Monday the 10th.

This giveaway has ended.