Monday, April 29, 2013

Live quietly, mind your business, work hard

A study in the book of Ruth is so many things, but on one level it is a picture of diligence and initiative. When Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, she was an alien in a foreign land, and a widow. Her only connection in the nation of Israel — her new home — was Naomi, who was also a widow. That did not deter Ruth in the least from taking the initiative to go out and glean in the fields, so that she and her mother-in-law could eat. It was her diligence that caught the eye of the foreman of the field she “happened upon,” and that work ethic was reported to Boaz, the landowner: “She has continued (to work) from early morning until now,” the foreman said, “except for a short rest.”

A companion piece to this encouragement to work hard can be found in the New Testament in the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul encourages the church to do three things. First, live quietly. Why not forget the foolish notion that to be useful you have to be noticed? Second, mind your own business. If we try to mind ours and others, we make messes of both. Third, work with your hands. The result is a good testimony with outsiders.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had a summer job working in a factory at RJR Tobacco Co. in my hometown. There were other college kids like me working, and one stands out in my memory, but not because of his diligence. His motto must have been, “Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down.” His job was to paint the guardrails in the factory, the ones that separated the floor where the forklifts roamed freely, and the walkways around the perimeter. The rails were probably 8 inches in diameter, and metal. He painted them yellow. With a brush. Lying down. Moving. His. Arm. Very. Slowly.

“I thought the boy was dead for a while there.” That was the comment of one seasoned veteran of Factory 51. I’ll call him Salty. He spit tobacco juice into the empty Pepsi can he was holding, and shook his head with disgust. “I tell you one thing,” Salty continued, as the others in the breakroom nodded, “If that was my boy, I would wear him out. He wouldn’t be too old to spank in my house, I can tell you right now. That boy is pathetic.”

Just as an aside, you may have figured out that this salty character from my past was not known for his timidity. His motto may have been, “Often wrong, but never in doubt.” One day, another man was complaining about his dog to the rest of us in the breakroom. “You want to know how crazy my dog is?” he asked. “When people ring the doorbell, he doesn’t bark. When they come inside and sit down to visit, he doesn’t make a peep or do a thing. But when they get up to leave, he bites them!” Most of us just laughed and shook our heads at the idea. Not Salty. He squinted at the dog owner and said with every ounce of sincerity, “You ought to shoot that dog.” Or actually, “that dawg.”

Well, the point is that whether you agree with Salty’s child training or his dog whispering, he was greatly offended by the college boy’s approach to work. If the college boy was a Christian, his testimony among outsiders was a lousy one.

It’s good advice: Live quietly, mind your own business and work hard.

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, April 23, 2013

20 Tweetable John Piper Quotes

After trying to find a few tweetable words of wisdom last week (yes, "tweetable" is officially a word now) and failing to find much of anything that wasn't already on Twitter, I felt that was an injustice that simply couldn't stand. Thus began a new series we're calling 20 Tweetable. Feel free to make a few suggestions on who we should feature in future posts!

 20 Tweetable John Piper Quotes
  1. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
  2. All heroes are shadows of Christ.
  3. Sin is what you feel and think and do when you are not taking God at His Word and resting in His promises.
  4. Sin is what you do when you are not satisfied in God.
  5. Prayer causes things to happen that wouldn't happen if the prayer doesn't happen.
  6.  Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for.
  7. Satan wants you, and God wants you. The one with sadistic hate. The other with sacrificial love.
  8. God does not kill joy. He kills sin. That is, he kills what will finally kill all joy.
  9. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, life will be hard, risks will be high, and your joy will be full.
  10. A God-centered God created a God-centered cosmos that he saves by a God-centered cross.  
  11. The end of the creation is that God may communicate happiness to the creature.
  12. Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak.
  13. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.
  14. I measure Your love for me by the magnitude of the wrath I deserved and the wonder of Your mercy by putting Christ in my place.
  15. The climax of God's happiness is the delight He takes in the echoes of His excellence in the praises of His people.  
  16. The goal of preaching is the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of his creation. 
  17. The cross is not a mere event in history; it's a way of life! "Take up your cross daily" Jesus said! 
  18. Relativism no longer means: your claim to truth is no more valid than mine; but now means: you may not claim to speak the truth.
  19. Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't.
  20. Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture - this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.   
Other posts in the series: 
Tweetable Tim Keller 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Answers to impossible questions only come from God

We remember the shock we felt when we first heard the news that two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Two pressure cooker bombs filled with metal shrapnel exploded 100 yards and 12 seconds apart.

At the time of this writing, there are three dead, including 8-yearold Martin Richard, who walked out to give his dad a high-five as he finished the marathon, and then returned to the sidewalk. The bomb blast killed Martin and seriously injured his sister and mother.

For many Americans, this attack in Boston was a reminder of the shock 12 years ago when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. For others, it was reminiscent of the Sandy Hook massacre last December. In fact, the marathon this year was a tribute of sorts to those who lost their lives in the Newtown school shooting. The Mile 26 marker was dedicated to signify not only that the runners had almost made it to the finish line, but also as a memorial for the 26 who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook shooting. Family members of the victims were given VIP seating near the finish line, close to where the first bomb exploded.

As the investigation in Boston continues, we all hope the perpetrator will be found and prosecuted. The president has pledged to give his full support to the various agencies that are tracking down clues and looking for answers. And that’s good. But there are questions many are asking in the wake of this attack. One is this: “What can we do to be safe? How can we protect our children, our family, our friends, our school, our neighborhood?” Or to put it another way, “How is evil restrained?” Is it held in check through our own efforts? Or through the efforts of others?

That is a variation on the most fundamental question many in the nation are asking this week: “Why are these things happening?” Or to put it another way, “Why is there evil in the world?” That question goes right to the heart of the most important questions any of us can ever ask: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?

The question of why evil exists is as old as creation. We ask it because God who created us has written his law on our hearts. We know there is right and wrong. We can clearly identify evil in a bombing in Boston. We recognize it in the stories of Adam Lanza in Newtown. Or Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia. By the way, the horrors of infanticide committed by this man in an abortion clinic in Pennsylvania will turn the stomach of most. Gosnell is on trial for the murder of one woman and seven babies. The descriptions of Gosnell delivering babies in the third trimester and then killing them after they survived is a portrait of evil. One employee claims he saw 100 babies whose spinal cords were snipped with scissors. We recognize the evil in this horror story.

We just have a hard time seeing evil in our own hearts.

God said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Why is there evil in the world? This column cannot fully answer that. The Bible can and does. Evil exists because of sin; and it is in our hearts to sin unless God gives us a new heart. The only way we can find answers for ourselves and for the world is to turn to God.

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, April 16, 2013

20 Tweetable Tim Keller Quotes

Now that I'm full time at my church (RedeemerOmaha.org), one of the additional responsibilities I've assumed is managing our internet presence. That includes the web site, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. So on a whim and in an effort to find some Twitter content, I Googled "Tweetable Tim Keller"—along with a few other notable names—and found that nothing worthwhile came up. So after investing a little more work than I'd planned, here's the first in what could easily be a whole series of "20 Tweetable" posts. 

P.S. Even though my spell-checker still doesn't like it, "tweetable" was recently added to the Oxford Dictionary, so grandma will soon be able to look it up in her hardback.

20 Tweetable Tim Keller Quotes
  1. To be holy is to be wholly God's. 
  2. Easter proves that Christmas was real.
  3. If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said.
  4. The more you understand how your salvation isn't about your behavior, the more radically your behavior will change.
  5. The glory of the Christian life is that we have a hope that overwhelms grief. It doesn’t eradicate it. It sweetens it. It overwhelms it.
  6. To take a person out of slavery takes an instant. To take slavery out of a person takes a process.
  7. How does Satan accuse us? By causing us to look at our sin rather than our Savior.
  8. Real change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering the radical grace of God.
  9.  The gospel makes you others directed, because you already have your prize.
  10. Every religion has a prophet who's pointing people to God. Jesus is the only one who says "I am God and I am coming to find you."
  11. If you seek righteousness more than happiness, you'll get both.
  12. From ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from all other gods as a God on the side of the powerless and of justice for the poor.
  13.  Jesus' death was necessary if God was going to take justice seriously and still love us. To be merciful, God must also be a judge.
  14. Gifts are abilities God gives us to meet the needs of others in Christ’s name.
  15. We have been saved from the penalty of sin. We are being saved from the power of sin. We will be saved from the very presence of sin.
  16. The gospel has two parts. It has the part that says you’re a sinner, and it has the part that says you’re loved and accepted.
  17. Don’t confuse your agenda for God with faith in God.
  18. It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the Biblical rules as by breaking them. 
  19. The happy ending of the Resurrection is so enormous that it swallows up even the sorrow of the Cross.
  20. There is no sin that is a match for God's grace.
Feedback: Who would you like us to feature next on a future "20 Tweetable"? Can you say "20 Tweetable Tim Keller Quotes" five times fast without calling him "Twim Keller"? I can't.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Whose children are ours, anyway?

If they are deported back to Germany, the Romeike family could face fines, jail time or worse: They could lose their children. They had already paid nearly $10,000 in fines before they left Germany and sought asylum in the United States. They had even suffered the pain of watching the German police apprehend their children and place them in the public schools. When Uwe and Hannelor realized that it was just a matter of time until their children were taken from them by the state, they fled to this country, and were granted asylum by a Tennessee judge in 2010.

Wait a minute. Back up the tape. These parents were not ritually abusing their children? They weren’t locking them in a closet and feeding them once a week? They weren’t denying them medical attention for life-threatening diseases? No. None of that. They were exercising their God-given right to educate their children at home. Ahh, but therein lies the problem. Is it a God-given right? Not according to the U.S. Justice Department, whose lawyers filed a brief arguing that since Germany has banned homeschooling for all citizens, not just the evangelical ones, the Romeikes have no right to political asylum in the United States.

Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, has agreed to argue the case for the Romeikes before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Farris wrote in his blog in February, “In most asylum cases, there is some guesswork necessary to figure out the government’s true motive — but not in this case. The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to ‘counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.’ This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.”

The Romeikes decided to homeschool their six children because they believed it would be what was best for them, based on their own Christian faith. In an interview with Human Events, they said, “The German schools teach against our Christian values. Our children know that we homeschool following our convictions that we are in God’s hands.” They believe what the Bible teaches, that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward,” and that God has given these children to them to teach and to raise for his glory.

All of this begs the question: If the United States can support another country’s decision to deny fundamental religious freedom to its citizens, how far away are we from seeing that same religious freedom denied here at home? If our own Justice Department sees homeschooling as a privilege granted to families in this country, not as a fundamental, God-given right, then how long will it be until that “privilege” is revoked? If our Justice Department is willing to argue that another government can forcibly remove children from their homes and send them to government-sanctioned schools, when will they decide the same applies to the two million children in this nation who are being educated at home? It is not just homeschooling that is the issue, but all fundamental religious freedoms.

The White House will hear any petition with at least 100,000 signatures. As of this writing, the Romeike petition has more than 70,000 signers. You can stand with the Romeikes by signing the petition. (www.hslda.org/romeike)

Mostly, I think they would cherish your prayers.

Mark and Cindy Fox have homeschooled for 23 years, with five children successfully graduated and two more to go. 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, April 9, 2013

VIDEO: What did the Old Testament sacrifices do?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why seek the living among the dead?

You may have heard about the man walking through his neighborhood one night when he saw a child inching along on his hands and knees beneath a streetlight. “What’s wrong, Jimmy? Did you lose something?” the man asked. “Yes,” whimpered Jimmy. “I dropped the dollar Mama gave me for ice cream.” Feeling sorry for the boy, the man got down on his hands and knees and started looking diligently for the missing money. After a few minutes, he said, “I’m sorry, Jimmy, but I don’t see your dollar anywhere. Are you sure this is where you lost it?” “No,” Jimmy replied. “I dropped it over there in the vacant lot.” “What?” the man said. “If you dropped it way over there, why are you looking for it here?” Jimmy pointed across the street and said, “It’s dark over there and I can’t see a thing! I can see a lot better here.”

It occurs to me that Jimmy was more theologically correct than he knew. The only way you can find what you lost in the darkness is to come to the light.

The angels on resurrection day had a different question for the two women who had come to anoint the dead body of their Savior: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Why look in the darkness for the One who is the light of the world?

I sometimes think it might be helpful to have an angel or two pop up in front of me once in a while and ask me the same kinds of questions. “Hey, Mark, why are you living as though your Savior were still dead?” “Hey, why are you rummaging around in the dark when the things you need can only be found in the light?” And, “Hey, why are you still carrying that?”

We do tend to live as though Jesus were still in his tomb, and we often carry burdens that we should have put down a long time ago. We forget — or fail to trust — that Jesus finished the entire work of our salvation, and we say or think things like, “Well, yeah, Jesus died for my sins — but now it’s up to me to live a life good enough to get into heaven.” That’s thinking as though Jesus is still dead.

Or, like the women who carried one hundred pounds of linens and spices to the tomb that morning, we struggle under heavy burdens and worry about things as though God expected us to handle life on our own. We say things like, “Pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on you.” Wrong. We must pray. And we must work! But everything still depends on God. Otherwise, we live as though the One who conquered sin and death is not available, or not concerned, or not all-powerful. That’s living as though Jesus is still in the grave.

But Jesus is not dead. His grave is empty — there’s no reason to be looking for him there. And that’s why the angel’s question is such a good reminder to us — and a healthy rebuke when our faith needs to be directed once again to God’s promises. Let’s not live as though Jesus were dead; we have a risen Lord.

Truth cannot be sealed in a tomb … or in a life. It certainly was not with Jesus. May we worship him openly, with great passion and joy and delight. May we walk humbly with him, trusting him for every step and for help with every burden.

He is risen!

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

VIDEO: How were people saved before Jesus died for sins?

We've been talking about doing something like this for quite a while at my church, but now that I'm full time I've finally found the time (and the means) to get it done. In addition to my first video for the church, this was actually the first video I've ever edited myself. iMovie gets the credit for anything that looks any less than amateurish. Enjoy!



Transcript:
Salvation. Justification. Righteousness. These are all big churchy words but they all center around the same idea and the same problem: sin has separated us from God. So how do we get right with God? Salvation has always been:
  • By grace (that is: undeserved and unearned, it is a gift of God)
  • Through faith (that is: trusting God to provide what we don’t deserve and can’t earn)
  • Grounded in the death of Jesus Christ for our sins
So then the hard question is, “How were people saved before Jesus had died for sins?”

Before I answer the question directly, let me point out that when we ask this question we’re thinking in a linear fashion, chronologically. Before Jesus. After Jesus. But Rev. 13:8 tells us that the name of every person who would ever be saved was written in the Lamb’s book of life “before the foundation of the world”. So God, in his sovereignty, had planned salvation based on Jesus’ atoning work far before he’d even created man. In other words, God had planned the solution before the problem ever existed. This means that God’s plan to take care of sin was always and had always been Jesus. Even before Jesus was born as a baby.

Now to the question itself. “How were people saved before Jesus had died for sins?” To put it simply, people who lived before Jesus were saved in the exact same way we are today. We must trust in God as he has most fully revealed himself to us. And when we do that, God credits the righteousness of Christ on those who believe and trust him. So God credits the righteousness of Christ backwards on those who had faith in God as fully as he had revealed himself back then, just as credits it forward to those who believe in Jesus today.

This is exactly what Romans 4:3 says of Abraham after God revealed himself and made a promise to Abraham. Paul writes: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” You can read Hebrews 11 for a bunch of examples from the Old Testament (that is, before Jesus). Each and every person listed there was commended as righteous for trusting God.

But the culmination, the climax of all the ways God revealed himself to us came in Jesus. And because God has revealed himself in Jesus, it is now true that we must trust in Jesus to be saved. You can believe some nice general things about God, but if you don’t have faith in Jesus as God’s fullest revelation, you’re not really trusting in God at all.

So the OT saints were saved by trusting in God as he revealed himself in greater ways as they were leading up to and even pointing to Jesus. We are saved today by trusting in God’s fullest revelation in Jesus. The people saved back then had to trust that God would someday provide for the forgiveness of their sin where they could not. We have the privilege today of looking back and knowing exactly when God made that provision, for them and for us. They were saved by looking forward and trusting God, we are saved by looking back and trusting God. At the center of it all, Jesus and the good news of his life death and resurrection.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The best display of love was at Calvary

My students did impromptu speeches in my 8 a.m. public speaking class last week. Each student drew two topics out of an envelope, picked one, and then had three minutes outside the classroom to prepare a one-minute speech. One of the topics was, “Money makes the world go ‘round.” The student with that topic basically spent one minute saying the same thing over and over: “Yep. It does. Money is everything. It does buy happiness. Can’t get enough.” She was funny, in a sad kind of way.

Another topic was, “Love is not the stuff of pop songs.” The girl with that topic is a good speaker and she started with a bang, referencing people like Justin Bieber and Brittney Spears, saying, “No, these guys don’t have any idea what love is.” Yes! I thought. Then she paused, and I was hopeful … until she said, “Now, RAP, that’s the music that tells the truth about love!” I hung my head. I am praying for this generation, I really am.

But the sentiment of this generation is no different than the previous one, in which the British-American rock band “Foreigner” sang, “In my life there’s been heartache and pain I don’t know if I can face it again. Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far To change this lonely life I wanna know what love is I want you to show me I wanna feel what love is I know you can show me” It’s as true now as it has ever been. The world wants to know what love is. Is it the stuff of pop songs? Or rap? Is it defined by having everything your heart desires or could even imagine? Is it the sentiment expressed in the 1970s movie, “Love Story:” “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”? Or in this quote by Robert Frost: “Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired”? Or this one from Oscar Wilde: “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”?

I would submit that none of those ideas come within a galaxy of what love really is. They are about as impressive in describing love as a paper airplane is in describing flight. Or “twinkle, twinkle little star” is in describing the expanse of the sky.

What is love? Who better to express what love is than the One who is love: God. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, (already seeing) the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. … Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” (C.S. Lewis)

There is no place on earth where love is more on display than it was at Calvary, on a cross outside of Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago. That’s why Paul wrote, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

That’s what love is. It’s what our heart craves, not the stuff of pop songs, but a perfect Love who died in our place and was raised from the dead. And that’s why I will be celebrating him with millions of others tomorrow.

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