Monday, July 29, 2013

A timely visit with an old friend

I first met Rob at Elon in the spring of 1993. Rob was a freshman then, and he began coming to our worship service that we held on campus. I loved his sense of humor and his accent. We spent a lot of time together over the next three and a half years. Rob and his new girlfriend, Amy, would come to the Fox house to have a meal, play with our kids and just take a break from schoolwork. Then, one of the highlights for me in our relationship happened June 29, 1996, when I was able to help officiate their wedding. They said “I do” and the Lord planted them in northern Virginia and later in Maryland, where they still live today.

But the miles couldn’t keep us apart. There have been many times over the past 17 years when Rob and Amy, with their two children, have driven down to see us. There have also been three times when Rob and I have been on the mission field together. The first happened in 2006, when Rob was going to meet our team from Antioch in Nairobi. And we didn’t show up. It wasn’t on purpose, but a delayed flight in Raleigh caused us to miss a flight in Boston — which made us a day late getting to Nairobi. With a nod to David Platt, from whom I first heard a variation of this comment: “God is sovereign (when it comes to delayed flights or anything else). But American Eagle was responsible.” So, Rob arrived in the Nairobi airport right on time, only to find that there was no one there to meet him and all he had was the name of the guest house where we would all be staying. Even though Rob is a federal agent who apprehends criminals and carries a gun, this unnerved him a little. He went outside and tried to ignore all the people who wanted to carry his bags (for a fee), and was able to find a taxi. When he made it to the Methodist Guest House, they had no idea who he was because the rooms were in my name. He convinced them that, yes, he really did know Mark Fox and no, he had no idea where I was, and could he please take his bags to his room? It was about that time that Cindy was able to get a call through from Burlington and let Rob know what was going on. I told Cindy that I wish she had called Rob and said something like, “Mark heard that you went to Nairobi THIS week instead of next!”

The second time we went to Africa together, Rob insisted that we meet on this side of the ocean and travel together. We did, and had a great time of ministry in Zimbabwe. Then in January of this year, Rob and his daughter, Meredith, met my family and others from our church in Miami, where we flew to Colombia for 10 days of ministry on the island of Bocachica.

We talked about all of that last week as Cindy and I, with two of our children, were able to go up to Maryland for a visit with our good friends. What a blessing to spend time in their home, worship with them on Sunday morning and see the impact they are making in their community.

The Bible says Christ came to “purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” You could put Rob and Amy’s picture right there.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jay-Z: Holy Grail || Heaven

Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed. He blogs at The Strife and is an assistant editor for Manual, the men's blog at CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  He serves on staff at The Village Church Dallas and tweets at @kyleworley.
magna carta holy grailWhile Natasha Tretheway is the poet laureate of the US, Jay-Z is the unofficial poet laureate of the masses.  More so than any other performer, Jay-Z carries a cultural weight that can move mountains of fashion, hip hop, and showmanship.  His newest release is Magna Carta, Holy Grail.

Now, if you would like, you can go and read two fistfuls of blogs decrying Jay as a member of the illuminati.  Do I care if Jay is in the illuminati? No, because the illuminati exists in the same way that unicorns do.

In what might be the most blasphemous hip hop track in history, “Heaven,” Jay quotes Michael Stipe (from REM) who once sang, “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.” But Jay-Z is lying…
Jay hasn’t lost his religion, he’s just exposed who he always truly worshiped…himself.
When you listen to the “Holy Grail” track it is clear, Jay found his religion and it is destroying him.  Jay and Justin sing a hymn to fame: “And baby, it’s amazing I’m in this maze with you, I just can’t crack your code. One day your screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold. One day your here, one day your there, one day you care, you’re so unfair sipping from your cup. Till it runneth over, Holy Grail.”

For those who haven’t seen The Last Crusade, what are you doing reading this article? Go buy all of the Indiana Jones movies and watch the first three and burn the one with kid from Holes in it. The holy grail is a mythical chalice that Christ supposedly drank from at the Lord’s Supper that promises immortality. Jay has bought into the idea that fame, the “woman” he is singing to in “Holy Grail,” will grant him immortality.

In the “Holy Grail” track from Jay’s album he raps about the love/hate relationship he has with fame.  It is fame that both promises immortality and will be his destruction. He decides that he will “take the good with the bad” and “won’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Yet, at the same time, he quotes Cobain when he says, “And we are all just entertainers, And we’re stupid and contagious.” Cobain was the quintessential rock martyr, sacrificing his life on the altar of fame. It appears that Jay is willing to do the same.

Only when you have heard Jay’s “Holy Grail” track will you understand his “Heaven” lyrics. If “Holy Grail” is Jay wrestling with being famous, “Heaven” is Jay asserting that there is absolutely no question why he is famous…he is god.

He quite clearly states evidence of his “divinity” throughout the track, here are a few examples:
“Have you bowed unto your highness?”
“God is my chauffeur…Boy they love Hova…”
“I confess, God in the flesh…live among the serpent, turn arenas into churches.”
Jay hasn’t lost his religion, he has created a religion.  He is “god,” arenas of people gather to worship him and his verses are scripture.  Yet, “Holy Grail,” reveals that the pressure of being god is crushing him.

He loves the very thing that is destroying him. He can’t quit sipping from a beautiful cup of poison. He has chosen poorly:

So, what are you pursuing? Jay is far from heaven, sitting on a kiddie chair calling it a throne, drinking from a cup of poison reflecting on Kurt Cobain. Will you join him?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Interview with an Englishman

Jeremy Craxford dreams of an England of old, when the pulpits were aflame with the Word being preached, and the churches were full of hungry souls. He lives in the northeast, in a town called Sunderland. Newcastle, right next door, was a favorite preaching spot for John Wesley in the 1800s. The itinerant evangelist visited more than 50 times. William Booth started a church in Gateshead, just a few miles away, and it was nicknamed “The Converting Shop” because so many people got saved there. Alexander Boddie, the founder of Pentecostalism in Britain, had a ministry in Sunderland. But that was then.

“Now, less than 1 percent of the population of Sunderland regularly attends church,” Craxford said.

Cindy and I spent an evening with the Craxfords in their home on June 29, after I had presented a conference that day in Newcastle. I was there to encourage the men, mainly, and to equip them to lead their families. That evening, I interviewed Jeremy about the spiritual condition of the UK, and his desire for God to breathe new life into the area.

Fox: Describe the spiritual decline here and what you see as the causes of that decline.

Craxford: I would say it has been happening over the last 100 years. Men would go out and earn a living in the factories, or mines, or shipyards, and they would see that as their responsibility. But they didn’t see their responsibility to bring their children up. I remember my brother and I being sent off to Sunday school by my parents when we were little. My parents didn’t go to church, and because I didn’t see any real faith in my parents, I didn’t have any real faith of my own.

Fox: What is the state of the Christian family, here?

Craxford: I can’t even think of five Christian families with a father and a mother and children who are being brought up in the faith. Lots of single moms. Lots of husbands or wives whose spouse is not committed to the faith. Lots of parents whose children have just rebelled and are not bothering with the faith.

Fox: I had a man tell me after the conference today that he had never heard these things taught in the church here. And all I was teaching was the simple truth from Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Is that part of the problem, that the pulpits have gone silent when it comes to teaching the Word of God?

Craxford: Yes, and I think there are all types of reasons for that. One is that the theological colleges tend to be very liberal, and so the preaching reflects that weakness. Also, looking the men in your church in the eye and saying, “You must take responsibility for your families” takes a certain amount of courage, and a lot of the ordained men in England do not have the courage to say that. I heard a chap say in a sermon years ago, “To be a man is to take responsibility,” and those eight words changed my life.

Fox: What are you asking God to do through you to make a difference here?

Craxford: I’d love to be involved in planting a family-integrated church. I really think there are a few keys that, if we would start using them, that something tremendous can happen in the U.K. If you look at the ministry of people like John Wesley, things had gotten to a really desperate stage in the U.K. before he came on the scene. And this was a man who was brought up very diligently by his parents, and all he did was preach the Gospel. Through his ministry God did tremendous things in this country, especially in places like Newcastle. We just need to get a few keys in place, and something tremendous can happen here, again, I think.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
If you’re anything like me, then you find it easy to get caught up worrying about the things that are happening around you. I find that there are constantly things to be worried about. Sometimes I’m drowning in school work, sometimes there are family problems to deal with, sometimes I have issues with my friends, or my friends are facing hard times and I get anxious for them. Sometimes it’s persecution for following God, or simply the fact that because I follow God I will miss out on certain things which I would enjoy doing.

There are a lot of things in the world that make us anxious and there are so many things that we suffer, even if we live in a first world country.

The Truth is that we will suffer here. 

Life won’t be easy – especially is we’re Christians. We will get sick, we will be busy, we will lose friends, we will be hated and persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12 says:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
Jesus explains this a bit more thoroughly in John 15:18-19:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."

But what does Paul say in this verse? 

Our sufferings "are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us". No matter what we go through in this life it is nothing compared to how good heaven will be.

It’s like comparing a billion dollars with a ten cent coin: ten cents is worthless compared to a billion dollars. Likewise worrying about our troubles here and getting depressed about them is like getting upset over losing ten cents when we have a billion dollars waiting for us – it’s stupid.

What’s even better than that is that God promises that we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). We don’t have to fear that the things we suffer will take us away from Christ if we are truly his people. Here are some examples:

  • In James 1:2-4 we learn that God uses trials to bring us to maturity and completion. 
  • 1 Peter 1 tells us that through sufferings God refines us like Gold. 
  • Romans 8:28 says that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.
Not only do we have the promise of heaven eternally, but we also have God’s promises that he is working in our sufferings here to grow us and to make us more like him.

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

Here’s the challenge: Instead of getting worried and caught up in our troubles that will inevitably distract us from our walk with God, keep an eternal perspective. In the words of the writer of Hebrews 12:2
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus suffered so that we can have eternal life in him. We will suffer here but instead of worrying about it we need to fix our eyes on Jesus and think about eternity.

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.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Unexpected blessing in Edinburgh

I had the opportunity to speak in Newcastle upon Tyne last month, and I will tell you more about that in a future column. Cindy and I decided to combine the ministry in the UK with an extended holiday in Europe, a second honeymoon, if you will. So after four days in London and the conference in Newcastle, we took a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland, where we would catch a flight to Paris. We had some time to explore Edinburgh before our flight, so we put our bags in “left luggage” (you have to love the common-sense expressions of the people of the United Kingdom), and headed for the Royal Mile. This is the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of Edinburgh, and connects the Holyrood Palace on the low end to the Edinburgh Castle at the top. We walked past ornate churches, bagpipers playing for donations, a man with a marionette, a headless man reading a newspaper (you had to be there), and shops, cafes, pubs, and restaurants. One of the most interesting things we saw was a man holding a huge yellow sign on the sidewalk that said, “John 3:7.” That’s part of a discussion Jesus had with Nicodemus when he said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” We stopped and talked to the man and found out that he and others were starting a street church there, on that spot. We encouraged them in their work.

We took a taxi from the train station to the airport, and our driver told us his name was Mustafa Adam. When he said he was from Algeria originally I said, “Oh, are you a Muslim?” He smiled and said, “Yes, but you don’t need to be afraid.” I laughed and said, “Oh, we’re not afraid. Our eternity is secure in Jesus Christ.” That led to a conversation about faith that went for the whole 30-minute taxi ride, and it felt like a divine appointment. We discussed the difference between the two religions, and explained that Islam is man-centered (dependent on works) and Christianity is Christ-centered, based solely on faith in Christ’s complete work on the cross. One of the major differences between the two religions is that Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God, nor do they believe he died on the cross. Mustafa said, “I love him so much, I would not want him to die for me!” I answered, “But if he did not die for you, you are still in your sins and will have to pay for them for eternity.” Mustafa replied, “But I want to pay for my sins. That is what we teach our children, no? To pay for their mistakes?” I replied, “That’s a human argument. There is no way you or I could ever pay for our sins against God. Jesus had to do it for us. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, but the name of Jesus.”

When we arrived at the airport, Cindy had just said, “We believe Jesus will reveal himself to you, and we will be praying for you.” Mustafa thanked us and said, “I have never had a conversation like this with anyone in my taxi!”

We told him it was an honor.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Getting Jesus' Parables All Wrong (Are You Guilty Too?)

Let me ask you a simple question (and I'll even warn you up front, it's a trick question).

"Why did Jesus teach in parables?"

The average answer would probably go something like this: "Jesus was a master storyteller, and he used parables to illustrate difficult or profound spiritual truths in the form of everyday stories. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. So Jesus spoke in parables so that people could better understand his message about the Kingdom of God."

Sound right so far?

In the circles of public speaking and discourse, Jesus is often held up as the prime example of someone who took complicated ideas and "put the cookies on the bottom shelf" through his story telling. So did Jesus tell parables to help people better understand his teachings?

Yes. And no. But mostly no.

So why did Jesus teach in parables if not to make things clearer? Luckily for us, Jesus' own disciples asked him so we don't have to wonder:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matthew 13:10-13, ESV)
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:9-10, ESV)
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:33-34, ESV)
You see, if even Jesus' closest followers constantly needed explanations for his parables (Matt. 13:36, 15:15, Mark 7:17, Luke 8:9), then either Jesus isn't the master storyteller we thought he was or clarity and simplicity wasn't Jesus' objective in the first place.

The parables pushed people. Either they pushed people in closer to Jesus with questions, with whetted appetites, with a desire to hear more or they pushed people away. The parables acted as a sort of litmus test on the hearts of those listening to Jesus. To some, the words of Jesus were the very words of God (John 3:34), but to others they were ravings of a madman (John 10:20)! To say it another way, the parables didn't make Jesus' teachings clear, they made his followers clear.

Don't be like Jesus (in this one way)

So, Christian, don't be a storyteller like Jesus. By this I don't at all mean don't tell stories. In fact, I'm very intrigued and excited by a growing trend in the church towards "storying" the gospel (ex. Story of God training, Engaging in Story). Instead, I mean that our aim in proclaiming should be different than Jesus'.

The parables that once were veiled are now revealed in the gospel. And I mean that in no way pejoratively! Isn't this the very thing Jesus said to his disciples as he sent them out?
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. (Matthew 10:27, ESV)
Looking back through the lens of the gospel and the instruction of the Holy Spirit, we can now take Jesus' parables and all else he taught and "proclaim from the housetops" what Jesus had only "whispered". If that doesn't get you excited about sharing, I just don't know what will.

For further reading: 
Why did Jesus tell people not to tell others who he was? 
The Balancing Act of Jesus

Monday, July 8, 2013

What makes our country great

I just finished reading Ben Carson’s book “America the Beautiful” and will share some of it with you as we reflect on America’s 237th birthday. Ben Carson is the most famous brain surgeon in the world, a black man who grew up in Detroit and was raised by a single mom in abject poverty. He wrote his latest book to answer this question: “What was it about the United States of America — the child of every other nation — that was so different and so dramatically changed the world? For within only 200 years of the founding of this nation, men were walking on the moon, creating artificial intelligence and inventing weapons of mass destruction, among other things. In its relatively short history, America has transformed humankind’s existence on earth.”

There is no “third rail” that Carson is afraid to step on in this book. He writes about our history as a “rebellious” people, how the revolution against British tyranny led to our freedom, and he wonders if we will once again rebel against elements of tyranny that we see taking root in our current government. He takes on the addiction we have to special interest groups, calling them the “unintended fourth branch of government.” Carson challenges the mantra of many secularists who claim that the founders of this nation were not men of faith. He quotes Thomas Jefferson who wrote in 1781, “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”

An interesting chapter in the book takes the reader through a brief history of public education in the United States. Alexis de Tocqueville came to our nation in 1831 to try to understand secrets of our enormous economic success. He was amazed at the school systems in America, and “he wrote extensively about what he saw as a unique and powerful tool to fuel a productive new nation. Unlike schools in Europe, American schools taught the children values, he noticed, and there was extensive use of the holy Bible in public schools.” The Frenchman wrote in his book, “Democracy in America,” “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.”

Tocqueville also wrote, “I sought for the key to the greatness and the genius of America in her harbors … in her fertile fields and boundless forests … in her public school system and institutions of learning … in her democratic Congress and in her matchless constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits fl ame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

That truth is confirmed over and over in the Bible: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Have we lost what Tocqueville found? If so, I believe recovery must begin in the pulpits. When the church is revived through sound biblical preaching all across the nation, then the nation itself will be revived.