Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ministry Idolatry: 11 idol threats in your own ministry

P.S. Yes, pun intended in that title. And kudos to anyone that caught it before I pointed it out here! Please make yourself known in the commend section below so we can adequately applaud you. And for the people still scratching their heads, it was "idol threats" rather than "idle threats".

This will be the last post on a little mini-series I've done on idolatry. These posts have had a logical progression to them as I've personally been working through issues of idolatry in my own heart and life. Here's that progression for those interested:

Idolatry is a human problem. (Post #1, "Show of hands: who bows to peer pressure?")

Idolatry is a Christian problem. (Post #2, "Worshiping our way out of idolatry")

Idolatry is a Christian ministry problem. This brings us to today's post, and unlike the first two, I cannot claim any originality for it. Mark Driscoll delivered a message back at the Advance '09 Resurgence Conference entitled "Ministry Idolatry". This list is offered at the very end of his message (the 54 minute mark if you wanna go watch it) and it's an insightful and convicting one.
1. Attendance idolatry - Does your joy change when your attendance does? Attendance is up; I am happy. Attendance is down; I am sad. Giving is up; I am happy. Giving is down; I am sad. That’s idolatry. It’s idolatry. A snowstorm hit our city. A bunch of churches cancelled. I asked pastors why. They said not many people would show up. Hm. I could have sworn we did this for Jesus. I could have sworn. I think He’ll make it. Cancel because the attendance isn’t enough for the pastor to have the audience that he deserves. The pastor usually had a thousand and he only had seven. He deserves more glory than that. We’re cancelling.

2. Gift idolatry - Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled? Deep down in your heart do you feel like, “Yeah. Lord, that was really smart that you picked me. That shows your omniscience. And you use me because I’m a good tool in Your hand.”

3. Truth idolatry - Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians? See, for some of you it’s truth idolatry. Keller hit this at the Gospel Coalition. It’s brilliant. Those of you guys who read a lot of books, get a lot of education, know a few words, you can think that you’re more righteous than the simple Christian because you believe that the idol of knowledge, which puffs up if not accompanied by love which builds up, makes you somehow superior and varsity. It’s one of the great problems in the history of Reformed theology. Right? We read books and we overlook humility. I’m guilty of it. If you don’t believe me Google my name. You’ll see examples. See, some of you think that your systematic theology makes you holier or closer to God. The grace of God is what reconciles you to God. The grace of God is what reconciles you to God. Am I against sound doctrine? No. I believe in it. The soundest doctrine of all leads to Christ being made much of and increased humility in those who worship Him. Any theology that leads to arrogance and pride is in and of itself idolatrous. Again, if you idolize something you have to demonize everything else. Be careful what you say. Be careful what you Twitter. Be careful what you Facebook. Be careful what you blog. And some of you will say, “You are chief of sinners, Pastor Mark.” And I would say, “Yes.” We all need to make sure that we don’t worship the idol of truth. Jesus says, “I am the Truth.” He’s the One we worship. I know people who worship theology and Jesus is an afterthought. And they are idolaters.

4. Fruit idolatry - Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you? “I know that God loves me and approves of me. Look at all the things that He has allowed me to do.” That’s fruit idolatry.

5. Tradition idolatry - Here’s the question. What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel? Because you are more committed to your traditions than Christ. “So you know, I know that this tradition from my denomination or my heritage or my family, it is not best for the forward progress of the gospel, but I prefer what Jesus calls the vain traditions of men because that idol is so important to me that I will even sacrifice the forward progress of the gospel in my ministry to do it the way that it was handed to me.”

6. Method idolatry - Do you worship your method as your mediator? Some of you worship your methods. You’re so convinced by house church, multi-site church, church-planting church, and you know what, methods can be used of God, but they can be idolized by people. GK Beale in We Become What we Worship he says that there’s a lot of discussion in the Old Testament about idolatry. Not so much in the New Testament. And the question particularly in the gospels is, “What is the idolatry there?” Now you do get echoes of idolatry later. The last word of 1 John is “Keep yourselves from idols.” So if you keep yourself from idols you obey the rest of the book. But what about the gospels? He asks this insightful question. What about the gospels? What’s the idol in the gospels? And you know what he says? It’s the temple. They felt that the temple made them closer to God, and when Christ came they crucified Him because He said He would destroy the temple. They worshiped the temple rather than Christ. And so God had the temple destroyed. For some, the church is their idol. Their ministry and its methods are their idols.

7. Office idolatry - Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title? Some of you young guys, you want to be called Pastor. It matters far too much to you. Some of you want to be called Deacon. It matters too much to you. Some of you want to be called Leader. It matters too much to you. It’s not about our office. It’s about our Christ.

8. Success idolatry - Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level? Do you want to win? However you define “win.” Growth, numbers, nickels, whatever it is. Winning. Is your idol winning? “I have to do better. I have to out-perform myself.”

9. Ministry idolatry - Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God? Do you walk with God because you love Him or do you walk with Him because if you don’t you’ll be in trouble as a minister and your ministry won’t go well and you may lose your job and shame your family and end up in the newspaper, and your idol is your office and your identity that is in something other than Christ?

10. Innovative idolatry - Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique? Why do you want your ministry to be unique? Why do you, as soon as you introduce yourself, say, “Yeah. We do it different than they do. They do it like this; we do it like…” Why does that matter? Because your idolatry is uniqueness and creativity and innovation, and for some contextualization, which isn’t a bad thing, but when it becomes a god thing it’s a bad thing. Why do you want to be unique? Wouldn’t it be better to be faithful and fruitful?

11. Leader idolatry - Who other than Christ are you imaging? Which pastor do you want to be like? Which church do you want your church to be like? What ministry do you want your ministry to be like? Who do you want to preach like? Who do you want to lead like? Who do you want to teach like? Who do you want to serve like? Really? Were you created to image, to mirror, to reflect them? You say, “But they’re a servant of God.” Right. But you’re not. You’re a servant of them. Some of you come from denominations, traditions, networks; the leader becomes the idol. That’s why anyone who even criticizes or raises any questions about it is demonized. Because if you idolize you must demonize. Be very careful.

- Mark Driscoll, "Ministry Idolatry" Advance '09

Monday, May 27, 2013

Starting early has its advantages

If you have been following this column for the last month, you know we are tracking Boaz’ progress towards marriage to Ruth. It is early morning now, and we find Boaz sitting at the gate. He is there because everybody passed through the city gate at one time or another, especially men going to their fields early in the morning. Boaz was not going to risk missing the one man in the city whom he needed to speak to: The man who was a closer kinsman to Ruth than he was, and therefore would have first right of refusal in marrying the young widow. Hey, don’t judge. It was part of the Jewish culture then. The point is, Boaz wanted Ruth to be his wife, so he got his frame out of bed early to see if he could make that happen.

In a recent podcast, Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing said this: “Morning people tend to: Make more money. Be more productive. Be healthier and live longer. Be happier and more satisfied in their lives.” (Gallup Poll, 2007) Some of my readers are groaning right now, saying, “But that’s not me. I am not a morning person. Not until about the crack of noon.” If that’s you, there’s good news. Being a “morning person” or a “night owl” is not genetic. You were not born with an inability to smile before 10 a.m. It is a preference that conditioning makes into a habit. Anyone can learn to get up early.

In his book, “America the Beautiful,” Ben Carson wrote that one of his summer jobs in college was as a supervisor for a highway cleanup crew. He directed a group of young men who picked up trash along the highway and put it in huge plastic bags. It was a hard job, and by mid-morning the sun was blistering and there was no shade beside the expressway. The guys were not enthusiastic about the job at all. So Carson said, “You guys don’t want to pick up garbage in the hot sun, do you?”

“You got that right!” they replied.

“Then why don’t we start when it’s cool out? How about six in the morning?” Carson asked.

“You must be crazy!” they said. “What are they teaching you in that fancy school?”

He explained to them how much more efficient they would be in the cooler weather. And then he said he would pay them for eight hours work if they filled up 100 bags, whether it took them seven or even six hours to do it. He wrote, “You have never seen young men work like these young men did. They had 200 bags filled by 8 a.m.!” The people in charge of the program were flabbergasted. They said, “Carson’s crews are amazing, but we never see them.”

When people who want to go to church on Sundays choose to sleep in instead, we say they worshipped with Priscilla Pillow. Or, they “didn’t get blanket victory.” One of King David’s mighty men killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. Vance Havner said, “That’s amazing, considering it’s hard to get a church deacon out of bed on a rainy morning.”

If getting started early is a problem for you, and you want to change your ways, here are a few tips. Make a plan and ask someone to hold you accountable. Put your alarm clock across the room. Establish a consistent bedtime. Follow Jesus’ example who “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark … went out … and there He prayed.”

Just do it!

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

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Worshiping our way out of idolatry

Worship is the default mode of our hearts. We were made to worship. It comes naturally. No one needs to be taught how to worship. However, there is a problem. Our hearts were made to worship God, and that is no longer their default mode. Instead, our hearts will look for and find anything other than God to worship. As John Calvin famously said, "The human heart is a factory of idols". What comes naturally is no longer worship of the Creator but rather worship of created things.

Identifying Idols

The deceptive thing about these idols, these false gods we worship, is that they rarely take the form of a little golden statue (at least not in our culture). But they are here and we worship none the less. When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.

Here are just a few questions to help you identify potential idols in your own life:
  • What do you brag about?
  • Where do you go for comfort?
  • How do you explain or identify yourself?
  • What do you want more than anything else?
  • What do you sacrifice the most for (in time, money, sweat)?
  • Who's approval are you seeking?
  • What gets the best of your attention, energy, creativity, and effort?
  • ...for a more extensive list and explanation, click here.

Good things turned into god things...

After working through those questions, a shock often comes at the realization our idols are usually good things. A spouse, a job, children, a passion or hobby, your church, your position in that church, your health, your looks, your skill and talent, the list is endless. But one thing that almost all idols have in common is that we begin to form our identity around that thing. "I'm a Red Sox fan." "I'm a mother." "I'm a Deadhead." "I'm a Calvinist." And, as Mark Driscoll has said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing". When our idol begins to become our identity, other questions are even better at helping us pinpoint those "functional saviors":
  • What, if it was taken from you, would shake your faith in God?
  • What would make you angry at God or question his love?
  • What would you give up everything else for to keep from losing?
  • What do you fear the most?

Worshiping Your Way Out

We're all idolators. We're all worshiping functional saviors that give us our identity instead of Jesus. But if many of our idols are good things, then the answer isn't that we must cut it out of our lives like a cancer (usually). So how do we get out? We get out the same way we got in.

We worshiped our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out of it.

When we worship idols, we turn to them to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings.  In the same way, when we worship God, we turn to him to provide for our deepest needs, save us from our deepest fears, and satisfy our deepest longings. And if we're honest with ourselves, only God is big enough to deliver on any of it. If we are going to worship our way out of idolatry, we must begin at the very place our most deeply-held idols end up: our identity. This must change or all the other work is in vain.
  • Identity - Quite simply, are you "in Christ"? Scripture tells us that in Christ we are loved by God, forgiven of sin, justified before God, we are new creations (you can read more here). Only by faith in Christ can any of this be true of you. But if your deepest identity is "in Christ", you can begin worshiping your way out of your other idolatry.
  • Acceptance -  In Christ, you are completely accepted and completely loved by the greatest and most important being in the universe. This frees you from the idolatry of individualism (which is often a fear of rejection) and the need to hide the shameful things of your life. This frees you from the need to be loved by everyone, and gives you the ability to speak the truth in love to those closest to you.
  • Significance - In Christ, you are a child of the king. You've been adopted into the royal family of God and you are a co-heir with Christ! This frees you from the idolatry of importance, always needing to be in front of people, always needing to get the credit you are due. This frees you from the burden of building your own empire so you can "leave a mark" or a legacy.
  •  Approval - In Christ, you have received the perfectly righteous life that Jesus lived and you have the unmitigated approval of the God of this universe. This frees you from being a doting parent who wilts at the thought of an unhappy child. This frees you from being destroyed by the slightest critique or criticism. And this frees you from pride when everyone starts telling you you're as great as you already think you are.
  •  Comfort - In Christ, we have available to us a "peace that passes understanding". We are given the Spirit of Jesus which is called "the comforter". This free you to not run to the fridge for comfort food when something goes wrong. This frees you to step out of your comfort zone and do something brave for the gospel of Christ.
We could go on indefinitely, but you get the idea. At the heart of everything we worship is something we want from that thing, and something that we ultimately can only get from God in Christ. We must worship our way out of idolatry. 

To read more, here's a recent post addressing one of my idols, human approval: 
Show of hands, who bows to peer pressure?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The problem with the law

“For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man” (Rom 8:3)
What is the law powerless to do?

The thing about the Old Testament law is that it was never meant to save. The whole point is that it proved we are sinful and that we have no hope of helping ourselves. It showed God’s standard to be absolute perfection and establishes that we can never meet that standard.

Take a look at Romans 3:10-12:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”

The law justly condemns sinners to death, and we are all sinners. It is a reflection of God’s character: his perfection and holiness. Sin is the opposite, it is being out of line with his character.

How bad is sin?

We often have a very small and limited view of sin. We think we're actually OK deep down: we don't view ourselves as totally depraved, helpless and deserving only of wrath. One sin is enough for God to condemn us to hell for eternity. We can never pay the price to make us right in God’s eyes. I know from my life that no matter how hard I try I always slip into sin, often without realising.

How then can we be saved?

God provided a way for us to be saved. He sent his son as a man.
  • Jesus came to earth and became a ‘sin offering’ for us (see Leviticus 4). He is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. He took our sin on himself and he suffered God’s wrath for it, dying in our place.
  • He didn’t do it because he needs us or wanted anything we have or because we deserve it: he did it even though we were powerless, even though we disobey and reject him (Romans 5:6-8).
  • Jesus is God - he came willingly. He deserves eternal power and glory. He had every right to judge and destroy us. He came to earth as a man - born into a stable, utterly humble and selfless. He did not choose to be born as a king, or into wealth, but rather was born as a 'no one' in a small town and into a relatively poor family. The God of the universe was willingly born as a weak human in a stable to save us.

He did it to save those who would crucify his son out greed, pride and selfishness. That’s us! We are no better then the Pharisees were.

When it says "In the likeness of sinful man" that doesn't mean Jesus was sinful, but rather that he was born as a man in a body that was affected by the fall: It was weak, he got tired and hungry and he probably also got sick. He suffered like we do. He gets it. We have a saviour who knows our needs entirely and from first hand experience.

Jesus came, lived perfectly and died for us. He obeyed the law fully and therefore he alone did not deserve to die. As a result, by dying for us he "condemned sin in sinful man". Our sin was 100% dealt with in him. He was condemned for our sakes.

What a wonderful saviour! What a Mighty God! What a loving creator!

The whole point of Jesus' death was to free us from sin and it's eternal consequences. If we have truly put our faith in God, how can we justify living a sinful lifestyle?

Nathanael Muscat is in his last year of high school. He was brought up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as Lord and Savior as he was growing up. He started his blog, Only In Christ, about a year ago.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Show of hands: who bows to peer pressure?

I was standing there alone in the middle of the room, and everyone was waiting for me to decide.

Although it happened more than two decades ago and a full two thirds of my life has since passed, I still remember the incident vividly. I was in second grade and the teacher had written a brain teaser up on the chalk board along with two different answers. One answer was on the right side of the board, the other on the left. One answer was right, the other wrong. Then she had everyone stand up and gave one simple instruction.

"Walk to the side of the board that you think has the correct answer."

One by one my classmates made their decision. And one by one, they all walked to the same side of the board. But I stood at my desk frozen. Frozen because no one stood by the answer that I was knew was the right answer. I was certain I was right, which meant I was certain all of my classmates were wrong.

And my second grade brain exploded. Not only with the logic problem on the board, but also the sociological problem forming before me. I was weighing risks and rewards. Being right all by myself would be awesome, but being wrong all by myself would be humiliating. Siding with the rest of my classmates would be safe, whether they were right or not.

In the end, I sided with the crowd.

I played it safe. And I hated myself for it. Sure enough, the entire classroom (myself included) had walked to the wrong side of the board. The bag of candy that would have gone to the students with the right answer instead went back into the teacher's desk. But the agony of missing out on some free candy was dwarfed by the angst I felt at the realization that I'd made my decision based not on what I thought was the right answer, but rather based on what I thought was the socially safe answer.

My heart idol is human approval.

My pastor just preached on idolatry this week, and I realized that I've still got the same idol that I had all the way back in second grade. When you're a kid, they call it peer pressure. When you're grown, they call it being a people-pleaser. But now I see it for what it really is. For me, it's an idol. It's my functional savior that I run to to find my self-worth, my validation, my meaning.

When I worship at this false god, I want the approval of my peers more than I want what I know is right. Nowadays it's not so much that I'm choosing to be wrong with the crowd rather than be right alone. Instead, I make the decisions that are socially safe, rather than the decisions that I know are best. Deep down, when I worship at the idol of human approval, my first question is not "What will God think of this decision?" but rather "What will others think of this decision?"

All of us have our own idols.

Most of them aren't bad things. A job. Your spouse. Your kids. Even "sex, power, and money" aren't bad in themselves, despite what you may have heard. But as Mark Driscoll has memorably said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing." When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.

Do you know what your idols are? Do you know how to go about finding them? In closing, I'll share a clip from my pastor's sermon on how to find your idols.

As you discover your idols, however, don't despair. There is an answer and it's the one Pastor Lee closes the video with. We worship our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out. But more on that in the next post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Does God Exist?

Another video made for my church.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Preparing our children for marriage

Yes, it is true. It’s in the Bible. Ruth watched Boaz from the cover of darkness and noted the place where he lay down on the threshing floor. Then, she waited until he was asleep and crept up beside him. She pulled the covers off of his feet, so the cool night air would awaken him. Then she lay down next to his feet, waiting for him to wake up and discover her there.

Not exactly the kind of things we teach our daughters to do, right? “Honey, find a farm and look for someone who is asleep under a tree after he’s finished his work and had a big meal. Pull his covers back and lie down next to his feet. He will tell you what to do.” No, I don’t think so. But, remember, we are not part of the Jewish society in 1200 B.C. The laws of levirate marriage do not apply to us, where a close relative would marry his brother’s widow. We do not practice arranged marriages in this culture. And, for the most part, women do not propose to men. This story of Ruth’s proposal to Boaz is descriptive, not prescriptive. This is true of many things in the Bible. For example, when was the last time you marched seven times around a car you wanted to buy at a local car lot and then blew a trumpet, expecting the dealer to turn over the car to you at no cost?

There is a common connection we can find here in Ruth’s brief courtship. Naomi worked a plan, however strange it may seem to us, so that Ruth could be in a position to marry Boaz. I believe we as parents should also work to help our sons and daughters be in a position to marry.

First, pray for your children and for their future spouses, if they are to be married. Marriage is a gift from God, just as singlehood is. Pray that your children would joyfully receive his gift.

Second, prepare them for marriage. The best way to do that is to have a good marriage yourself. Besides that, there are many lessons young people must learn before they say “I do.” Teach them those lessons and develop their character. As Gregg Harris says, “Train them until you like them.” If you do, there’s a great chance their spouses will like them, too. In fact, their spouses will thank you. Teach your sons to work hard and never to make excuses. Train them to take initiative, even in finding a wife. It’s a guarantee he won’t find character or a wife in a video game, nor will he develop responsibility there, so why should your son spend hours every week playing one? Challenge him to read good books, instead. Finally, teach your children to look below the surface when choosing a mate. The Bible says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Third, provide opportunities for them to meet godly young people. Now, there are silly ways to do this, like a full-page ad letting people know that your son or your daughter is available: Here’s a better idea. Invite the young people in the church and community to your home for volleyball or for a Bible study or for a cookout. Get to know your teenager’s friends, and help your children grow in discerning good character.

The world needs to see godly marriages. For that matter, so does the church. Let’s do our part, parents, to make that happen.

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

Friday, May 17, 2013

Romans 8:1-2 - No condemnation

  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:1-2)
No Condemnation

What awesome verses! We deserve condemnation because we disobey God - no human has, is or will be perfect but God is perfect and his standard is perfection (Romans 3:23). He is also just and must punish sin. We deserve that punishment. Yet, instead of giving us what we deserved, Jesus, who is God, came into the world as a man. He suffered and died in our place, taking our sin and God's wrath for it. He was perfect and therefore if we are Christians he has taken our sin on himself.

If sin results in death (Romans 6:23) and Jesus rose again, then that means that sin was dealt with in full. We are forgiven! He rose again and proved that he truly did conquer sin. And if he has dealt with our sin then we have the sure hope of heaven, of eternal life - Jesus rose again and so shall we! If we are Christians, we are completely saved! Jesus has dealt with our sin and therefore we don't need to fear death or feel guilty. We don't have to worry - we can completely trust in him!

What if you're not a Christian

If you're not a Christian then this message isn't true for you. You still stand condemned because of sin. So how do you turn to Jesus? Repent and believe! Repentance involves turning ‘away’ from sin and ‘toward’ God. Belief or faith is genuine trust in Christ as the only way to be saved - not trusting in ourselves or our good works or anything in this world, but trusting that Jesus is God and he saves all who turn to him (Romans 10:9, Joel 2:32).

Once saved, the Holy Spirit ("the Spirit that gives life") is in us. He gives us life, sustains, grows and teaches us. Through Jesus we are set free from sin and spiritual death, from God's wrath and condemnation.

What does this mean in our lives?

Based on the above, even if our lives are falling apart and everything is going wrong, if we are Christians we can and should be joyful. We always have the sure and eternal hope and of eternal life in heaven with God where there will be no hardship (Revelations 21). We have reason to be joyful even if we are not happy! (Philippians 4:4). We have reason to praise God and to trust him. Don't be discouraged! Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith because he alone saves. We have reason to be joyful!

I was struggling through this when I wrote this post the first time and as I prayed about it my ipod lit up with an email from Bible Gateway. Here's the verse which came up:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:11-13)
We serve an awesome, loving, caring, kind, merciful, gracious and faithful God. A just and perfect God who cannot stand sin, but a God who was willing to send his son to die for us, taking our place so that we can be forgiven and experience his mercy and grace. We deserve only wrath, but in Jesus there is now no condemnation!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Nathanael Muscat is in his last year of high school. He was brought up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as Lord and Savior as he was growing up. He started his blog, Only In Christ, about a year ago.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Our Worship Is Not Entertaining Enough

Some insightful reflections from Carl R. Trueman on contemporary worship:
The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.


Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection...
Carl R. Trueman, "Tragic Worship", First Things June/July 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Naomi’s plan may surprise you

Read the book of Ruth for a great love story. But Naomi’s plan to help her daughter-in-law Ruth get a husband may surprise you at its boldness. It was a four-part strategy. First, she told Ruth to take a bath, put on some perfume and dress in her best. Now, that’s not a bad idea for a young lady who is looking for a husband, is it? Be clean, smell good and look nice. Dress attractively, not seductively. Women know the difference between the two, don’t they? So do men. The word that is used here seems to indicate Ruth was to dress in a way that concealed her identity.

One commentator said that she would have dressed almost like a Jewish bride did on her wedding night, with modesty rather than allurement. That would have protected Ruth from being identified if anyone did see her as she was hanging around in the dark, outside the threshing floor, waiting for all the men to finish their meal and go to sleep.

Part two of the strategy was important. Naomi told Ruth to wait until “he (Boaz) has finished eating and drinking.” When do a majority of arguments occur in the home? Right after the man, or the man and the woman, get home from work. He may have had a hard day. She may have, too. I can promise you that whether he had a tough day or not, when he walks through that door he has one thing on his mind: His stomach. He is hungry and is ready for a nice quiet meal with his family. The problem is, she may have one thing on her mind as well: Answers. She may want to know when he is going to fix something that is broken, discipline one of the kids or how they are going to pay a bill that has come in the mail that day. The husband and his wife have legitimate desires. But, the better part of wisdom is for everyone to be fed first. Get the blood sugar levels up to where they need to be. Get the stress level down to where it needs to be. Enjoy each other and the meal. Then address the issues of the day that need attention. Timing is important, and Naomi understood this.

Part three of the strategy was crucial. Naomi said, watch where Boaz lies down. Why? Because the last thing Ruth wanted to do was to uncover the wrong feet! No matter how dark it is, there would be no way to hide her embarrassment.

Part four was the key step: “Go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” What is going on here? Well, the story of Ruth is about more than one thing.

On the one level, it is the story of redemption. It is a picture of the humble sinner approaching the mercy seat of God, brought by his grace and being covered and protected by his Savior. On another level, it is a picture of a relationship between a Moabite widow and a Jewish man who was in a position to marry her if he chose to do so. She lay at his feet, perhaps, because she was humble, not presumptuous. She came to make a request, not a demand.

For the rest of the story, read the book of Ruth. You will see the humility with which Ruth responded to Naomi, the faithfulness of Boaz and the exciting way God brought a Gentile widow into the lineage of Jesus Christ.

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

Monday, May 6, 2013

Racism has no place in Christianity

Racism attacks the very heart of the Gospel — the saving knowledge of Christ that is given to men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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