Thursday, March 28, 2013

Free ebook alert!

Just in time for Easter! Amazon is offering Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace (Kindle edition) for free for a limited time. I'm actually reading this book right now (in print, as you might have guessed if you follow this blog), and really enjoying the fresh approach to Christian apologetics.

The similarities between J. Warner Wallace and Lee Strobel are strong (former atheists using their professional expertise to examine the claims of Christianity) but I dare to say I enjoy Wallace's writing and approach even better than Strobel's. There just seems to be less of an agenda behind the writing of a cold-case homicide detective than that of an investigative reporter (at some point, Strobel's feigned skepticism just started to feel too forced).

Get Cold-Case Christianity for free on Amazon!
"Christianity could be defined as a “cold case”: it makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence. In Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace uses his nationally recognized skills as a homicide detective to look at the evidence and eyewitnesses behind Christian beliefs. Including gripping stories from his career and the visual techniques he developed in the courtroom, Wallace uses illustration to examine the powerful evidence that validates the claims of Christianity."

Related Posts:
For more free reading, go get Raised? Doubting the Resurrection by Dodson & Watson

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's good news!

Imagine with me, if you will, that you're a rookie news reporter and tonight is your first (and probably only) shot at anchoring the evening news. Normally you'd be thrilled at the opportunity but there's just one problem: all the news is bad.

I mean, really bad.

War looms on multiple fronts as both your neighboring countries aim all their military firepower at your tiny nation. Many (including some of your own family) sit behind enemy lines as prisoners of war. The lives that aren't risked in battle are equally in jeopardy as a mysterious virus sweeps the country taking more lives every day. National debt is soaring along with the personal debt of everyone you know (yourself included). Loans are defaulting and banks are now resorting to old-school tactics and sending thugs to "collect". And the only hope—the one man looked to by the nation to lead them out of this crisis—has suddenly and unexpectedly died. 

As you make a last minute review of your notes, however, the studio doors burst open.

"It's over!" the intruder shouts. "The war is over!" He excitedly explains how one of your neighboring countries called for peace, then turned their guns on your nation's other adversary, sending them into a full retreat and freeing the POWs in the process. But before he could even finish, the door flies wide again.

"They found a cure! A cure to that epidemic that's been killing everybody!"

"And ALL the debts are getting paid off!" shouted two more people in close succession. "The national debt has been paid and in response the banks are making a one-time pardon on all credit card debt!"

Once more the studio doors slam against the wall as they're thrown open.

"You'll never believe this, but he's alive!" the last intruder shouts. "The details are fuzzy, but..."

"We go live in TEN SECONDS, everyone!" your producer shouts.

As you clear your throat and prepare for the signal of the camera man—barely keeping a ridiculous grin from spreading across your face—your co-host leans over and whispers:

"Share the good news. Use words if necessary."

Ridiculous, right? Peace with one enemy. Victory over the other. Prisoners set free. The sick are healed. Debts are paid. Your savior is alive. And you're asked to restrain your tongue? Nobody would say something like that.

And yet...

We hear it all the time. "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." I suppose I understand the sentiment behind it. The news should be so transforming, so life-changing, that our very lives and conduct reflect the effects of the good news without a word being spoken. But the thing that is transforming and life-changing is the good news, not our good lives. Good news must be shared, proclaimed.

As Paul said in Romans:
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (10:14)
 With Easter less than a week away, who are you sharing the good news with?

Monday, March 25, 2013

It is never too late to seek the Lord

My relationship with Jerry and Frances began seven years ago with a handwritten letter. Frances wrote that she and Jerry read my column every week and said, “We love it.” Then she asked, “Would you be willing to come and talk with Jerry about salvation? He wants to go to heaven when he dies.” I called that day and went to visit them that week. That day, I had the privilege that every Christ-follower dreams of, to lead a man to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Have you ever reached out to take a fully ripened apple from a tree and have it fall into your hands at the slightest touch? That’s what it was like that day with Jerry. He was ready. All I had to do was explain to him what the Bible means when it says, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” God had given Jerry the gift of faith, and his life was changed for eternity in a moment.

That was just the beginning of a relationship that I will always treasure, as I began to visit with Jerry and Frances almost every week. They were rarely able to come to church because of physical conditions, so my contact with them took place in their living room. It was not a hardship, believe me. I looked forward to it. We talked over the years about everything. Jesse James: Jerry is a distant relative. Jerry’s job as a cook for the general in the army. How he met and fell in love with Frances. Their pride in their two sons and their grandchildren. The many, many people that Jerry and Frances have known and loved over the years. It seems like every week I learned about another person they touched in some way. We talked about everything under the sun, but there was one consistent theme that came up over and over. Jerry and Frances wanted to talk about following Jesus. They asked questions often about the Bible, about faith, about heaven and about living a life that is pleasing to the Lord. It was my great privilege to play a part in discipling this couple, and especially Jerry as a new believer. It is also my great pleasure to be their friend.

Jerry got what he had hoped for just a few weeks ago. The Lord called him home at the age of 79, and Jerry went the way he had often told me he wanted to go: quickly. His son Jay was in the emergency room holding his hand when he breathed his last. The next sight Jerry saw, I believe, was the Savior, welcoming him to heaven with outstretched arms and nail-pierced hands. Jerry heard those words that we long to hear, “Well, done, good and faithful servant.”

At the memorial service, there was a lot of laughter, as friends and relatives shared some of their favorite stories about Jerry. The theme was constant: Jerry was a good man, a generous man, and he loved his family dearly.

Two thoughts keep coming to mind when I think about Jerry. First, I miss him, and it hurts to know I won’t see him again for a while. Second, God is so gracious to call to himself the young and the old. It is never too late, as long as we are in this body, to cry out to him for forgiveness from sin.

Never.

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

Friday, March 22, 2013

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? (Bonus: Free eBook!)

There are many challenges that get leveled at Christianity, but none of them hits at the heart of the faith like this one: "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?". Even Paul admitted as much in 1 Corinthians 15 saying, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain".

So if you or someone you know is wrestling with this very question, let me point you to a couple things that came across my Google Reader this week (I know, it's going away, I'm sad too):

Aaron Armstrong addresses three of the most popular challenges in blog form:
Some things are harder to believe than others. Believing that Jesus was a bona fide historical figure… few, if any, seriously doubt there really was a Jesus of Nazareth who preached a message of repentance and reconciliation with God and was later crucified (even if many attempt to redefine the purpose of these events).

Then, there’s the resurrection…

For a lot of people, this is far more difficult an idea to swallow, particularly those of us who were raised on a steady diet of empirical naturalism.
The idea that Jesus was crucified—we can accept that. But that He rose again? That’s a bit much, isn’t it? Surely it had to have been made up.

Three alternatives to the resurrection

Because we don’t have a category for the supernatural, we look for alternative explanations—and there are a LOT of alternatives floating around regarding the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there’s a lot of consistency between them, with the majority being variations on one of three options:
(...)

Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson address the larger question in book form:
If you doubt the resurrection, I’m glad. Anything worth believing has to be worth questioning, but don’t let your questions slip away unanswered. Don’t reduce your doubts to a state of unsettled cynicism. Wrestle with your doubts. Find answers.
If you call yourself a believer and a skeptic, don’t settle for pat proofs, emotional experiences, or duty-driven religion. Keep asking questions. Those who haven’t questioned their faith can easily become doctrinaire, even detached from the everyday struggle of faith. Whether you are a skeptic, believer, or somewhere in between, press into your faith or push into your doubt. Question your faith and question your doubts. Determine good reasons for believing or not believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If he really did defeat death, it changes everything. Doubt well and you can walk away from skepticism, cynicism, or blind faith into perceptive belief, intellectual security, and deeper commitment. You can know that you have honestly questioned the resurrection.
(...)
Download Raised? Doubting the Resurrection by Jonathan K. Dodson & Brad Watson for free!
Kindle (.mobi)  |  iBooks (.epub)   |   PDF

Monday, March 18, 2013

God does make provisions for the poor



The story of Ruth provides a powerful illustration of a biblical truth: God has made provision for the poor. When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem with no husband and no means by which to make a living, Ruth said to her mother-in-law, “Let me go and glean.”
  
There was no safety net for the poor in Israel, at least not one that was provided by the government. Instead, the poor were to be provided for by individuals. God instructed the Jews in the book of Leviticus not to strip their vineyards bare, and not to pick up the fruit that fell to the ground, and not to glean their fields right up to the edge.
  
“You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am the Lord your God.” God basically said, “Sorry, Woody Guthrie. This land is not your land. It is Mine. You are the steward. I am the owner. And part of your stewardship is to use part of your land, your business, your income, to make a way for the poor or the stranger to live.” We have a responsibility to help the poor. But look at how it was set up. The poor were never told that they could just sit home and those with means would eventually show up at their doorstep with a basket of gleanings from the field, saying, “Here, I worked hard all day in the hot sun so that I could not only provide for my family, but for your family as well.” Neither were the poor told to just go stand beside the fields where the people were working hard in the heat of the day and hold up signs that said something like, “I am poor. I need your help.” No. God loves the poor and has a plan to provide for them. But that plan does not include stripping their dignity away along with the resources that they have already lost. He commanded that they be allowed to come and work for what they needed.
  
On a recent trip to South America, we dug latrines for families on an island where there is no running water. Behind door No. 1 there were several generations of women, including a grandmother, a mom, a sister and several children. These we may have expected just to sit back and watch while we did the work. That was not the case. The women had done the preliminary work of getting the stone and sand so the job site was ready. They served Cokes to the team as they worked in the heat. They cleaned up the site and got it ready for the walls to be built around the latrine.
  
Behind door No. 2, however, we found a totally different scenario. The “man of the house” was sleeping on the couch the whole time we were digging a latrine in his backyard. He never once came outside and grabbed a shovel and said, “Hey, let me help.” It should be easy for us to discern the difference between someone who wants others to subsidize his lifestyle of unemployment … and someone who is truly willing to work for food. And will do it.
  
That’s one thing I love about Ruth. She took action. She went to work to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. Granted, she was able-bodied and capable of hard work. There are those who cannot work, and the safety net for them should include family, church and community. But Ruth was able, so she went to work. We can learn from her example.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

The fact is, God still reigns

“Gregory Lane Lanier was driving around Sebring, Florida, with his dog beside him. The dog accidentally kicked his shotgun, which Lanier thought was unloaded. It wasn’t, and shot him in the leg. Police did not arrest the dog. Believe it or not, this was not the first time such a thing has happened. Last year, a professional hunter in France was in the field when one of his dogs jumped on him, hitting the trigger of his gun. The hunter’s hand was shot and had to be amputated.”

In other news, “Scientists are watching an asteroid called Apophis, which is 1,000 feet across and will come dangerously close to Earth in 2029 and again in 2036. If it were to strike our planet, it would have the force of approximately 20,000 Hiroshima bombs.” Finally, “The fact that 1.3 billion Catholics (nearly 20 percent of the global population) are presently without a leader on the papal throne in these chaotic days is indeed significant.”

Each of those stories is from a blog by Dr. Jim Denison, and they seemed totally unrelated when I first read them. Until Jim connected the dots near the end of his post:

“Here’s the good news: God is still on his throne. Nothing you’ve read this morning surprised him. He doesn’t need to consult blogs and Twitter feeds to know what’s going on in his universe. He already knows if Apophis is a threat to our planet and who the next pope will be. And he stands ready to redeem everything that happens in our lives” ( deni  sonforum.org  ).

The book of Ruth is a wonderful testimony to the truth that God is on the throne and he alone is able to connect the dots and make sense of our lives. The story of Ruth took place when judges ruled in Israel, a dark and difficult time. Elimelech and Naomi lived in Bethlehem until a famine forced them to move. Elimelech took his family all the way to Moab, where he must have heard that there was food. They settled there and famine soon gave way to bereavement, as Naomi buried her husband in Moab. Her sons had found suitors, so perhaps Naomi’s grief was softened somewhat by two new members of the family and the prospect of more to come. But 10 years went by and with it, no grandchildren were born. Grief was added to disappointment as Naomi’s sons died, leaving behind two childless widows, Ruth and Orpah. Famine. A move. Bereavement. Two marriages. Three funerals. At this point, the family of Elimelech from Bethlehem stood on the brink of extinction. When Naomi heard there was bread again in Bethlehem, she began her journey back home and begged her daughters-in-law to stay in their country.

Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and turned back to Moab. Ruth, however, having heard the same persuasion from Naomi, chose to stay with her motherin-law, leaving behind her family, homeland, culture, friends and the gods they worshipped. Ruth uttered those beautiful words of commitment and faith that many followers of God have grown to love: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.” The truth is, God still reigns. In the words of Abraham Kuyper, onetime prime minister of the Netherlands, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”

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, March 5, 2013

What's on your "to read" list?

Here's the two books I'm most eager to get in to on my "to read" shelf: 


My daughter, on the other hand, added one of my books to her "practice the letter 'B' on" list:
And while she was at it, she made sure I knew which page was her favorite (it's page 55):


So, what's at the top of your "to read" list?

Monday, March 4, 2013

That loving feeling follows commitment

In a family history that one of my uncles did several years ago, he found this story. My ancestors came from Germany and Switzerland. The Germans were Moravians and they left their homeland to come to America in the 1700s. The trip on the sailing vessel “Sandwich” took 15 weeks from Holland to New York. Along the way, one of my relatives gave birth to a little girl, who died a few days later and was buried at sea. The mother also died shortly after, and was also buried at sea.

But another story caught my eye as I read about my past. It stood out especially as we have just begun a series of sermons that will take us through the book of Ruth.

It happened in 1787, when one of my ancestors approached the elders of the Moravian church in what is now called Winston-Salem and expressed his desire to be married. The elders must have agreed that this young man was a worthy candidate, so they wrote the names of all the single women in the community who were also ready for marriage on separate slips of paper. They put the names in a half-coconut shell and the young man drew one out. That was the woman he was to marry. At first, the young woman declined. Then two days later, she agreed to the proposition. But then my ancestor declined. Perhaps he thought, “Hey, she wasn’t so thrilled about being married to me when she first heard this. Well, believe me, she’s not the only fish in the sea. Or, Moravian in the settlement!” I have no idea if he said that or not. The record does show, however, that the young man came back to the elders two days later and had changed his mind, saying, “I believe it is the will of God for me to marry Anna.” The wedding took place less than one month after my ancestor first made his desires known to the elders.

The book of Ruth, on one level, is a love story. When Ruth first catches the attention of a man by the name of Boaz, the reader starts to wonder if there is the possibility of romance in the air. Ruth is a young widow from Moab who lost her husband after 10 years and then moved from Moab to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law. Boaz is a respected man in the community, a landowner, and a man of influence. He is also a generous and a kind man, and when he sees Ruth gleaning in his fields, he asks one of his employees who she is. His heart is captured by this young widow, and he tells her that she can glean in his fields every day, and there is no need to go to others. He also warns the young men who work for him to leave her alone.

You will have to read the rest of the story to see how the “courtship” process works between these two. I will tell you this. It doesn’t involve a coconut shell and names on slips of paper, but it may shock you even more.

Both events, the Moravian romance and the Ruth and Boaz love story, illustrate for me the truth that marriage is built on the solid rock of commitment, not on the shifting sand of emotion. Is God against emotion? Of course not, it was his idea in the first place! So we see him adding emotion where there is commitment.

You fall in love with the one you give yourself to for life.

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