Monday, September 17, 2018

Strengthen What Remains

Jeff and Amy Jo Akin are good friends who moved from Burlington to Louisville, Ky. ten years ago. Jeff is a leader in the Trane Corporation, but he is also a church planter. After leading a small church for several years, Jeff heard from the Southern Baptist Convention about their emphasis on church revitalization. The more he heard, the more excited he got about it. That led to a conversation with one of the men in the SBC who is leading the charge for church revitalization, and from him, Jeff got a contact name and number. The pastor that Jeff called wanted to meet immediately, and the two men spent several hours together. Dan was pastoring an aging congregation that in its heyday had 600 people coming through the doors, and now were down to 50. Jeff and Dan met together numerous times, and then got their leaders together to plan a merger. Jeff took his fifty people and joined with Dan and his fifty, the old with the young, and now they are one year into the new work. One elderly woman told Jeff not long after the new work began, “I’ve been praying for you for 20 years.” Jeff looked surprised, since this was the first time they had met. The dear saint explained that she had been praying for two decades that God would revive her church and breathe new life into it.

Jeff shared with Antioch last Sunday the sobering statistics from the SBC. 15% of the churches report themselves to be healthy. 70% of the churches say they are in decline, and headed for death. 15% of the churches are dead, and don’t know it. 900 Southern Baptist churches die every year. The average church size in the U.S. is 50 people, so that means somewhere around 45,000 people every year lose their church home. Jeff has told me stories of churches in the Louisville area that are near death, with less than a dozen members, but who refuse to join with another church. This is not just the case with Southern Baptist churches, but with every denomination, and with non-denominational churches like Antioch. Jeff preached here last Sunday and used Revelation 3:1-6 as his text, which is a strong word on the need for church revitalization. Jesus spoke this exhortation: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.”

Some churches are dying simply because their members are elderly and no new families are coming in behind them. Many churches are dying because they have rejected the truth of God’s Word and have replaced it with their own agendas. Jeff said on Sunday, “Churches are dying because God demands glory, and they are not giving it to him. And time runs out.”

How can a church give glory to God?

God is glorified when a church believes and lives the truth of his word. He is glorified when a church does the work of transforming culture one person at a time, through the power that is only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is glorified when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. He is glorified when churches “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and (are) patient with all.” He is also glorified when churches that are dying humble themselves and welcome another church into the fellowship.

Audubon Baptist is doing well, and experiencing the grace of God that attends any work done in obedience to the Lord. The challenges have been met with courage, and the people have risen to the call to make one out of two. They are taking seriously the command of Christ, to “strengthen what remains.”

Monday, September 10, 2018

Larry and Mary Love Africa

Cindy and I got to spend one night last week with our good friends, Larry and Mary, in a beach house at Emerald Isle. They live in Tennessee, and we only get to see them once a year, if that. But our friendship goes back to when we were still young parents, trying to figure it all out. I remember our last time together at the beach. It was 25 years ago, or so, and we encouraged them to try something different in the way they were disciplining their firstborn. The son was not real happy about the suggestion, but Larry and Mary were thrilled with the results. Fast forward a quarter-century, and their four sons are all making a difference for Christ with their lives. Credit that to good parenting and the grace of God.

A few years after that beach trip, we spent some time together at a conference. After the evening session, Larry and I went to the gym, and played one-on-one basketball for more than two hours. We both remember that we played until one of us got to 100. Neither of us remembers who won. We have played golf together a number of times. Last week when we arrived at the beach house, Larry told me he had a basketball, a new football, and tennis equipment we could use. Hey, we both like to play, and we are both competitive! The next morning we played tennis for two hours. I won’t tell you who won, because it’s too painful.

I remember sitting in a restaurant with Larry in 1992, as he was preparing to take his family to Africa. He challenged me with questions about the call Jesus gave each of us, to make disciples of the nations. Since that year, Larry’s ministry has trained tens of thousands of pastors in Africa, and I have had the privilege to share in that training with him on occasion. I have led pastors’ seminars in four African countries, mostly because of Larry’s influence, and have traveled with Larry on a number of occasions. He invited me in January of 2006 to go to Kenya and South Africa with him and a few wealthy businessmen from Tennessee. That trip stands out in my mind for a few reasons. It is stuck in my memory because my father was dying with cancer. I asked Dad if it was OK for me to leave, and he gave me his blessing.

I also remember one of the team, also named Mark, was a very wealthy businessman. He invented a turbo football that I am sure many of my readers own. Mark and I sat next to each other on a bumpy flight to Masai Mara. He told me about his work, and about his family, and he asked me lots of questions about my life. I have never gotten sick on an airplane, but this is another reason I remember that trip so well. The plane bucked and wobbled as we went through heavy storms for an hour, and by the time we landed, I was green and my airsickness bag was full. My new friend, the multi-millionaire inventor, took it from me so he could throw it away.

Larry and Mary spent 7 years living in Africa, and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. The bad and ugly include being robbed at gunpoint in Kenya. It includes being part of a church that was attacked by terrorists in South Africa. It includes a near miss, as one of their sons was headed to the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 when masked gunmen attacked it. The good includes having children born in Africa; Larry calls them his “African-Americans.” The good includes making friends everywhere they lived, and partnering in ministry with hundreds of missionaries and church leaders. Today, Larry and Mary continue to serve the African church from their home in Nashville. You can read more about their ministry at http://www.leadershipintl.org/. If you have a chance to hear Larry speak sometime, do it. He is an excellent storyteller, and his stories will move your heart and may end up moving your place of residence to where a people-group in the world needs you.

Cindy and I love Larry and Mary, and have been privileged to learn from them over the years, to laugh and to pray together, and to share this past year in their battle with cancer. We are so blessed to walk together, even if only once a year, with them. They illustrate what the Bible says: “a friend loves at all times, and a brother (or sister) is born for adversity.”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

God Does Not Need Your Ability

One of the bedrock principles of the Bible is that God doesn’t need your ability; he works through your availability. We see it over and over again in Scripture. Gideon was chosen by God to lead the nation of Israel into battle against their oppressors, the Midianites. When God spoke to Gideon about doing this great thing, Gideon said, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest…and I am the least in my father’s house.” Moses said the same thing when God commanded that he speak to the Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.” Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Do you recognize the mistake both men made? God told them to go and they said they could not go because they were not able to do this great thing the Lord was telling them to do. God could have said, “Who asked you to do it? I just told you to go. Believe me when I tell you that I know full well, much better than you could possibly know, that you cannot do what I am telling you to do.” But what God said to both Gideon and Moses instead was, “I will be with you.”

I remember being targeted by a certain boy in elementary school when I was around 10 years old. We didn’t call it “being bullied” back then. We called it, “the normal way bigger boys behave when they are around smaller boys.” Anyway, I would always walk the half-mile from my house to the school, and every day this boy named Chuck would try to pick a fight with me. I finally told my older brother about it and he said, “Tell little Chuckie the next time he even opens his mouth to you that I am your brother, and that if he lays a hand on you, he will answer to me.” Now, why didn’t I think of that? The next day I relayed the message to my friendly neighborhood bully. He said something like, “Keith Fox is your brother? OK, man, sorry about that, man, let’s just be friends, OK?” I took his lunch money and said, “Bring me your favorite baseball cards tomorrow, and we have a deal.” (That last part didn’t happen) The point is, in that situation, I didn’t need to rely on my own ability. In fact, if I had, Chuck would have stomped me into the ground. I relied on my elder brother’s ability; all I had to do was show up and speak what I had been given.

In the case of Gideon, all he had to do was obey God’s commands and his little band of 300 men routed an army of 145,000. In the story of Moses, all he had to do was obey God and the most powerful nation on earth voluntarily released its three million Israelite slaves, and allowed them to take away much of the wealth of Egypt when they left. Impossible? Absolutely. If you were making up such a story, that ending would be utterly ridiculous. But not with God. That is one of the most exciting truths about following the one true God. He wants us to live in such a way that there is absolutely no explanation for our lives except God. It is called “living by faith, not by sight,” and when you live that way, God gets the credit for your life. He alone deserves it.

God is not limited by your limitations. He is not surprised by your weakness. He is not upset with your imperfections. He does not need your abilities at all. He is God, after all. He only requires your availability as you place your life into his hands by faith. He can and will take care of the rest.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

WTS Product Feature: The NIV Biblical Theology Study Guide

If you know anything about the Westminster Theological Seminary and their Bookstore, you know that they have been strong advocates for the ESV Bible since it's release in 2001 (and we have promoted many of their Bible sales here).

So when they not only sell but promote an NIV Bible, it's note-worthy. And as such, WTS Bookstore included said note with their latest sale: "The notes and articles featured in the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (formerly the NIV Zondervan Study Bible) are simply tremendous. The contributors to this edition number among our favorite pastor-theologians, and their work here makes for rich and rewarding study. The focus on God's redemptive plan of salvation makes this a worthy addition to any Christian's library. While we continue to recommend the English Standard Version as the best all-around English translation for study, preaching and worship, we warmly recommend this study Bible to you as an excellent tool for understanding and applying all of scripture in light of Christ's life, death and resurrection. We're excited to partner with Zondervan to offer it to you at the best prices, before it's available from other retailers."

Well I, for one, am certainly intrigued, and I thought I'd pass it along:

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Keeping the Camel Out of the Tent

You have heard the familiar adage that you have to keep the camel’s nose out of the tent if you want to keep the camel out. But what if the camel is the creator? And what if the camel’s nose is the belief that the world was created by God?

I am amazed at the boldfaced steps that are being taken to make Darwinian evolution mainstream and to marginalize or destroy any mention of God as creator in today’s classrooms. Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote several years ago that we must prefer “science” to “supernaturalism.” Why? “Because,” he said, “we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” That is stunning in itself, for it is an admission that a philosophical presupposition drives the evolutionist, not the facts. Lewontin agrees. “It’s not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation” of the world, he writes. “On the contrary,” he continues, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.” Nancy Pearcy translates this in her book, “Total Truth.” She says that what Lewontin is saying here is, “We first accepted materialism as a philosophy, and then refashioned science into a machine for cranking out strictly materialist theories.”

Lewontin concludes that this commitment to materialism must be “absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” Or, a divine camel’s nose in the tent.

Don’t believe that the tent flaps have been nailed down? Here are a few examples from textbooks that are used in our nation’s schools today.

“Many people believe that a supernatural force or deity created life. That explanation is not within the scope of science.”

“By attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than to supernatural creation, Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis.”

Darwin himself would be pleased that his theory of evolution has taken root so deeply in our culture. He wasn’t sure about evolution, but he saw it as one of many possible explanations for the origin of the universe that left out God. Make no mistake: leaving out God was his primary objective. He wrote, “If I have erred (by exaggerating the power of natural selection) I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.” What was most important to him, Darwin wrote, was the idea that “species have descended from other species, and have not been created immutable.” He was willing to concede his theory for any other viable mechanism out there, as long as it was naturalistic, as long as God could be kept out of the picture.

Funny thing about God. He will not be left out of the picture, especially since He painted it. Only the Bible’s explanation makes sense of where we came from and why we are here. C.S. Lewis responded to those who misinterpret the Bible and in the process make fun of Christians for wanting to go to a heaven where we will “spend eternity playing harps.” Lewis wrote, “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”

Here’s how God might respond to those who would make up stories to explain the universe. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

Forget the camel, his nose, and your tent. It is the Lord of the universe with which we have to do.

Look to him. Listen to him.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Get the Leaving Part Right

I was in line at a wedding reception several years ago when a man asked if I remembered what happened at his big day nearly 16 years earlier. I started laughing. The picture is etched in my mind of the two of us who were officiating the wedding standing in front of the two being united that day in holy matrimony. The problem was, there was a third party standing there. Right between the bride and groom. You see, the pastor who was supposed to ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” forgot to ask. As a result, the man giving the bride away kept standing there. He didn’t know what to do, and the pastor who forgot to ask the question didn’t know there was anything that needed to be done. This was only the third wedding I had officiated so I didn’t know what to do either. We were all undone.

As I recall, the bride and groom spoke their vows to each other by leaning forward and looking past the man in the middle. He was no small man, and the image of those vows being tossed across the bow at each other makes me laugh every time I think of it. An awkward situation, to be sure, but the couple came to the same end that every wedding is supposed to come to: they were married when it was over. That story has been told and re-told for these many years, and I am sure it will live on in the lives of their children’s children.

I couldn’t help but think about what that wedding scene represents for so many today who never really left home on their wedding day. Though a man in the middle of the wedding ceremony may not change anything, a mother or father in the middle of the marriage will spell disaster. You have heard these stories. Young newlyweds decide to remodel their living room. The groom’s mother hears about it, orders paint and wallpaper that she thinks would look best, and shows up on Saturday morning ready to go to work. Or a young couple with their first child decides to go to the lake for a summer vacation. When the maternal grandmother hears about it, she insists that the young man not take her daughter and grandchild to that lake “because it is not safe.” Or a young family is visiting grandparents when one of their children acts up and needs to be spanked. The young man’s father tells him he is being rash and begins to teach him, as he says, about the “proper way to discipline your children.”

Now when I officiate a wedding, I will always ask the parents of both the bride and groom to stand. Then I say to them, “You have the privilege and the responsibility to pray for (this couple), to support his leadership in their marriage, to give advice and counsel only when asked, to encourage them and take delight in their life together as husband and wife. Will you pledge to do this?” The two sets of parents don’t hesitate to promise before God and man to let this young couple establish their own household as the Lord requires.

Jesus said it like this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The picture of a mother or a father sleeping between newlyweds makes us shudder. There’s no room for a third party in the middle of a marriage.

Get the leaving part right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

This Nourished My Soul

I love summertime. I have always loved it. It brings back some of my best memories of childhood, which includes, at the very top of the list, trips to Surfside Beach. Every summer my family would rent a small cottage down near the beach and spend a week there. Dad was always a little less stressed and we would play in the sand, swim until we were waterlogged, look for shark’s teeth, fish off the surf, and get sunburned. Getting burned wasn’t much fun but the rest of it was a blast. The day ended with showers for all and a trip down to Murrell’s Inlet for some of the best seafood in the world. We were usually there with my Mom’s parents, and a lot of the talk at the table included stories about previous beach trips and childhood stories from my grandparents about growing up in the 1920s. My granddad would talk about some of the crazy things that happened to him when he was a deliveryman for a laundry and then later a journeyman electrician. My grandmother was a receptionist at Whitaker Park in Winston-Salem, and would regale us with stories about meeting people like Lucille Ball and Gary Moore.

After supper we would often walk down to one of the docks at the inlet where the deep sea fisherman were cleaning up from a day out at sea. As a little boy I would stand with my mouth agape at some of the big marlins, giant bluefin tuna, and other game fish that were on display on the docks. Occasionally someone would have a hammerhead or tiger shark strung up on the scales, and we three boys would ogle and point and threaten to push one another into their fearsome and jagged rows of teeth. Dad would almost always get one of the fishermen into a conversation about his big catch, and I learned from my father that you really don’t have to be afraid to talk to anybody as long as you are asking them about themselves.

We would spend the rest of the evening back at the cottage, either playing cards or working on a 1,000-piece puzzle in the living room, or sitting on the front porch and listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The conversation again would turn to childhood stories, and I would listen and learn of my heritage. I also learned what a good story sounds like and would practice telling the stories of my own life in my head, pretending at times that I would write them all down in a book one day.

The next day at Surfside Beach would be very much like the previous day. But we never got tired of it, and by May every year my brothers and I were counting the days until summer vacation and dreaming of the trip to the beach. It was one week of family time without any interruption from school or chores or friends.

Jesus told His disciples on more than one occasion, “Come apart by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Vance Havner used to say that if we don’t come apart and rest awhile, then we will come apart. I for one am very thankful for my parents’ commitment to taking an annual vacation with their three sons. I don’t remember exotic trips to far away places. I remember salty, sunny seascapes, simple fun, sprinkled with stories and lots of laughter.
It nourished my young soul.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Zimbabwe Needs the Rock of Ages

I just learned last week that a longtime ministry partner, Simon Mkolo, has died. Simon was 81 years old and left behind six children and a wife. I met Simon in Zimbabwe, where he lived, in 1999. I had the privilege to go back in 2007, at Simon’s invitation, to speak to a church leaders conference in the village of Manjolo. Here are some memories I wrote down about that journey.

Its name means “the big house of stone.” Zimbabwe is bordered by two rivers and boasts one of the largest waterfalls in the world. “Smoke that Thunders,” known as Victoria Falls, is a sight to behold. The wildlife reserves of Zimbabwe draw tourists from all over the world. The breathtaking beauty of this country’s landscape, however, stands in stark contrast to the bone-crushing poverty of its people. Nearly 75% of the people live in chronic poverty.

I did not go there to try and fix the economy or to confront the political landscape. Nether did I go to address the AIDS epidemic, though more than one-fifth of the nation then was infected with HIV, and more than 500 adults and children were being infected every day. One doctor said, “People are dying of AIDS before they can starve to death.” I did not go to try and help the orphan problem, though there were more orphans per capita in Zimbabwe than anywhere else in the world.

I went to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone has the power to change a nation. I went to serve alongside Simon Mkolo. Simon met the Lord Jesus as a young man while serving a prison term for being a political rabble-rouser in the 1970s. He came out of prison with a different message and life purpose. Instead of trying to change Zimbabwe from the top down, Simon began to work from the bottom up. He went to the common people, the laborers, the farmers, the merchants. He told them the story of how his life was transformed by a Galilean carpenter, and he invited them to meet the Savior. His message took hold in the hearts of thousands, because the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Since he became a Christian, Simon has planted over 300 churches, and each of those churches is making a difference in the towns and villages of a suffering nation.
There were hundreds of people in attendance at the conference in Manjolo, many of whom had walked for four or five hours to get there. They slept on concrete floors in cinderblock school buildings during the week. They gathered under two huge trees and sat from nine o’clock in the morning until nine in the evening. They ate sadsa, the staple food made of maize “flour” and water.

And they worshipped God in the most exuberant and refreshing way I have ever experienced. Singing at the tops of their lungs, they leapt and danced in such a way that huge clouds of dust rose up and danced with them. When we stood up to speak, they applauded wildly, not for us but for the opportunity to hear someone preach the Word of God. They listened patiently as the interpreter spoke our words in their native tongue, Tonga. They took notes, flipping through their Bibles to every passage mentioned. And when the message ended, they bowed their heads to pray.

There was one moment during the week that made me tremble. Dozens of church leaders were standing at the front, having responded to an invitation by Simon Mkolo and the local pastor. Simon turned and asked me to speak a word of encouragement to them, and my mind went to the book of Esther, the story of a young Jewish woman who became Queen of Persia at the same time there was a plan to destroy all of the Jewish people. Mordecai said to her, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I challenged them that God has brought them to a place of leadership at such a time as this, when the stability of their nation stands on the brink. As I spoke, some of the people began to weep and then to wail. They were crying for their country and they were crying out to God for strength and wisdom and for help.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. It changes hearts. It gives hope where there is none. It changes sinful and deadly health habits and calls people to repentance and faith. It changes sexual behavior and calls people to biblical marriage. The Gospel moves people to have compassion on the hungry and to provide shelter for the orphans.

Zimbabwe is in dire straits, and I don’t suggest for a moment that we need to stop giving money and medical supplies to organizations like the Red Cross and others. But money and supplies are temporary solutions that improve the quality of life for a day or a week. It is the church in Zimbabwe, led by men like Simon Mkolo, that is changing lives for eternity.

That’s why I traveled to the “big house of stone.” I went to help Simon tell Zimbabwe about the rock of ages.

Monday, July 30, 2018

God Hard-Wired Us for Growth

Every living thing grows. That’s why we have to keep our grass mowed in the summertime, lest we lose small children in the backyard. God created the earth and started civilization in a garden, one that was already growing when man was created. You plant seeds in your garden, and you water them with the expectation of growth. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But, let’s be honest: you and I can’t make the tomato plant grow. Only God can. Jesus said it himself: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Gardens grow, and so do people. We started life as a zygote, a fertilized ovum. After we were born, our parents took care of us as we grew from an infant in arms to a baby trying to turn over and to crawl. We learned to crawl, and then to walk. That is expected growth and maturity. If you walked by a church nursery and saw a few babies crawling around in diapers, you wouldn’t think twice about it. Babies do that sort of thing. But if you glanced in there and saw a couple of the adult leaders sitting on the floor and wearing onesies, pacifiers in place, playing with toys, you would have every right to be alarmed. Babies in the nursery are normal. Fully functioning adults in a nursery? That’s tragic.

There is an expectation of growth because God, the creator of all things, made us to grow up. We expect it. We also desire it. Though some of us might like to go back to our childhood and have the energy of a 10-year-old, none of us wants to go back and have the stature of a 10-year-old. Or the wisdom of a 5-year-old. It is natural and normal for a child to want to grow up to be a teenager, and it is normal for a teenager to want to grow into an adult. Yes, “adulting” is hard, but God created us for growth and maturity. We do not want, nor should we want, just to maintain the status quo. Even worse, we do not want to regress, to go backwards in our growth. Stephen Um writes, “Now the only thing more fearful than stasis (not growing) is regression, decline, and death. We go to great lengths to hide the ways in which we decline and regress. What is clearly known in the universe is that the principle of decay clearly exists. As it has been said, ‘Gravity isn’t just physical, it’s also historical.’”

Growth is part of God’s plan. So is regression and decay of all things physical. Every living thing has a growth cycle and then it begins to move towards death — quickly if it’s a fly, and very slowly if it’s an oak tree. You want to hear some really good news? Incredible news? That is not the case with our spiritual being. Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Continual spiritual growth for the Christian is as much the plan and purpose of God as the life cycle of an apple tree. Our bodies may break down, and they do, but our life with Christ grows stronger every day.

This is why Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. The church there was a spiritual nursery. Instead of growing to maturity, the church was filled with jealousy and strife and factions. The people were fighting like 3-year-olds, and Paul asked them, “Are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

God hard-wired us for growth, so we do not have to be “merely human.” In Christ, we can grow into spiritual men and women, fully equipped to do all that God has created us to do. So, let’s grow up, church!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

This was a Heroic Rescue

By now everybody has heard the news: 12 soccer players from Thailand, and their coach, were rescued in heroic fashion from a cave. I heard one radio commentator say that this was one of those rare news stories, where the whole world rejoiced in the outcome. I think he’s right. There were no protests outside the cave. There was no one trying to convince the rescuers not to go in. There were no appeals courts deliberating whether in fact the soccer players had the right to be saved. And as far as I know, there was no one on the planet hoping the rescue efforts would fail, because there were 13 human lives at stake. I know there was a Babylon Bee story with the title, “Huffington Post Criticizes Thai Navy SEALs For Displaying ‘Toxic Masculinity’ During Daring Cave Rescue.” But that was satire. In fact, the whole world rejoiced that these 13 people were rescued, and saddened that one of the rescuers lost his life in the attempt.

Much has been written about this event, and I hope you will forgive me if I offer a perspective on it that you may not have heard. Think with me about this. These 13 were absolutely helpless to get out of that underwater cave by themselves. It was impossible. Hopeless. Their only hope was for someone to come from the outside, someone who had the strength to pull them to safety. They could do nothing to help their rescuer except to hold on, by faith, and allow the rescuer to do the work necessary to save their lives. The rescuers reached into the deepest part of a hopeless situation, and brought the dead back to life. As far as I know, not one of those people said to the rescuer, “I know you think I need being rescued, but that’s simply not true. I’m fine right where I am. I hear you say there’s a way out, but I don’t need it. Why can’t you just leave me alone and let me live my life the way I want to? I like it here in this cave!” No one said that, because they knew the desperation, the hopelessness, the inevitable end they faced without a rescuer. The rescuer. The one who came for them.

The fabric of the universe is woven around the most dramatic rescue operation ever. You know this verse, right? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Maybe the world was riveted by this story in Thailand, as we were by the rescue of 18-month-old Jessica McClure in 1987, because we were created by God, in his image. And God is a rescuer. Jessica fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas, and it took rescuers 56 hours to free her from the eight-inch well casing, 22 feet below the ground. The whole world watched and prayed, and then rejoiced when she was saved. We love stories of daring rescues, and all the more when we come to understand the Gospel.
The Gospel was on display in those watery caves that were denied becoming watery graves. Thirteen people were rescued from certain death. The truth is, we all need to be rescued from eternal death, because of our sin, and there is only one rescuer. The old hymn describes Jesus’ rescue mission this way: “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood, Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

The cross? That was a heroic rescue for the ages. And for all who will believe. There is no other.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Runners and Drivers

Milton Berle used to say, “My doctor told me that jogging could add years to my life. I think he was right. I feel ten years older already.”

Many of you would agree with the late comedian. You are the same ones who respond when I talk about going for a run: “Was someone chasing you?”

The truth is, yes. I am being chased by an old man, by my geriatric future self who can’t walk to the mailbox without oxygen. I am being chased by the image of me, ten years from now, tired and out of shape, unable to take a walk with my grandsons, much less go for a run with them. I am being chased by obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Edward Stanley said, “Those who think they don’t have time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
Do I like to run? The answer to that question really doesn’t matter; the bottom line is that I need to run. I need to “discipline my body and bring it into subjection,” as Paul said. He also said, “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” There are three ways physical exercise profits. First, it helps me feel better and have more energy for the work God has called me to do for the days I have left. Second, it is one way I provide for my family. Think about it. If you die early because you were not a good steward of your physical health, are you being the best possible provider and protector for your family? Third, I run because discipline begets discipline. In other words, if I get self-indulgent with my physical appetites, I get lazy with my spiritual disciplines as well. Anybody who runs will understand this: the battle is not with your body but with your mind. Discipline your mind in physical exercise and you are strengthening your mind to follow the Lord and obey His commands as well.

And to answer the question, yes, I love to run. I didn’t at first, but the more you run, I promise, the more you will grow to love it.

General George S. Patton, U.S. Army General in World War II and Olympian (pentathlon) in 1912, said, “Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

I run in town, and I run on the rural roads around my house. I always face the traffic, as runners should do. Here is what kills me, and thankfully, it hasn’t yet: drivers who seem to be playing chicken, seeing how close they can get without hitting me. Most of the time, there is no one coming in the other direction, so there is no reason why the driver barreling down on me could not move over into the other lane. I am hugging the white line, or moving onto the shoulder if there is one, but they pass by within a foot of me anyway. I always wonder why anyone would take such a risk: a sudden sneeze or a spasm or a bee in the car could mean death for one or both of us.

Go for a run or a walk this morning after you finish reading the paper. It will be good for you. And if you drive past me while I am running sometime, please wave as you motor by … in the other lane.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Broken by Forgiveness

When Stakwell Yurenimo, a Samburu in northern Kenya, did well on his 8th grade exams, the Kenyan government informed him that he had qualified to go to a high school that they would choose. They also chose his roommate, a young man named Paul, who was a member of the enemy tribe, the Turkana. Stakwell determined in his mind that there was no way he would room with a Turkana. In fact, part of his culture demanded that in order to be respected as a man, he needed to kill a Turkana.

Stakwell poured water on Paul’s bed every night so that his roommate was forced to sleep somewhere else. Paul did not react in anger, but slept on the ground without complaint. This went on for several months. Meanwhile, there was friction on the soccer field as well. Stakwell was an excellent midfielder. Paul was the team’s star forward, a striker with considerable skill. But the team kept losing because Stakwell would not pass the ball to his roommate. The coach finally confronted Stakwell, who told the coach that there was nothing he could do. “You will just have to put one of us on another team,” he said.

That’s what the coach did, and the first time the two teams played each other, Stakwell threw himself into Paul, trying his best to kill him. He broke Paul’s leg and knocked out several teeth. Because it was an intentional penalty, Stakwell was expelled from school, and sent home a hero to his fellow Samburu tribesmen for injuring a hated Turkana. He did not care about being expelled, but then the school told Stakwell that he would have to repay Paul for all of his medical expenses. Stakwell, a Samburu shepherd, faced an insurmountable debt. That’s when his life changed.

Paul came to Stakwell offering forgiveness. He did not want to be paid back. Paul explained that he did not retaliate all the time his roommate was persecuting him, “not because I am weak, but because I am a Christian. When you were pouring water on my bed and forcing me to sleep on the ground, I was praying for you.” Stakwell’s heart was broken by this demonstration of the Gospel. He became a Christian, and after finishing high school and attending Bible School, he began working to bring reconciliation between the two warring tribes, the Samburu and the Turkana.

With the help of New Directions International (now, Feed the Hunger), Stakwell opened a Sports Camp in the Kurungu, Kenya region. He brings hundreds of young people together three times a year for friendly competition. More than a dozen tribes are represented at the camps, and the ministry is changing the climate of the region. Stakwell told the team from Antioch Church that visited several years ago, “There has not been one killing in the past two years between the Samburu and the Turkana.” There is even a Turkana village now in the Samburu region, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.

Being at the camp with Stakwell and his family (including seven children they rescued from abandonment) gave our mission team a picture in living color of what is only possible through the power of the Gospel. “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Stakwell Yurenimo, the Samburu warrior once committed to destroy the Turkana, was broken by the forgiveness shown to him by a Turkana follower of Jesus Christ. Now he lives to help others find that forgiveness as well.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Upside-Down Power of Weakness

I got some good advice from a spiritual mentor years ago, right after I became a pastor. JL Williams told me that he knew of several men who started the same way I did. These men believed the Gospel, and were determined to faithfully preach it. “But,” JL said, “now, ten years later, or 20 years later, they are presiding over a congregation that is not a church, and making converts who aren’t Christians. They have given up preaching the Word and replaced it with preaching what people want to hear. Don’t do that, Mark. Don’t ever do that.”

The man who told me that was faithful to preach the truth until the day he was called home, and by God’s grace, I will do the same. The question is, why do so many drift? Why would anyone replace the Gospel message, which the Bible tells us is “the power of God for salvation,” with a message that cannot save? Why would someone choose to tell people what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear?

Part of the answer is clearly explained in the Bible. Paul wrote, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” Christ crucified. That is the message of the Gospel.

Alistair Begg says the drift happens because the preacher himself begins to doubt the message of the cross. Think of it. A Galilean carpenter, claiming to be the incarnate Son of God, nailed to a Roman cross, who died to take away your sins and mine? “That’s just too much,” some preachers say. “I can’t believe it.” Begg says the preacher wants to have intelligent people in his church, and he believes that no intelligent person would believe that stuff. “So in order to keep the intelligent, he lets go of the apparently foolish, and fills his church with a bunch of foolish people who are apparently intelligent.”

The message of salvation reveals the upside-down power of weakness. The Savior did not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, followed by an army, to overtake the Romans and bring political freedom to the Jews. He was beaten with a cat-o-nine tails, forced to wear a crown of thorns, stripped of his clothing and nailed to a tree outside of town, in order to bring forgiveness and eternal life and spiritual freedom now to all who will believe in Him. Stephen Um writes that at the cross, “The ultimately powerful one becomes the ultimately weak one. The ultimately wise one condescended to our level. By this great wisdom and power he has rewritten the storyline.”

The message of the cross, when believed, should produce great boasting in the believer. That’s what the Bible says. Christians should boast more than anybody else. In fact, I challenged the congregation last Sunday to try and become the biggest boasters in the tri-county area. Or, hey, if you aim at the stars, you might hit the moon, right? So, make it your goal, I told them, to become the biggest boasters in the whole state. Oh, one more thing I told them that is important. When we come to the cross, we can no longer boast about ourselves. But as Paul said, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And as God said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Let the boasting begin. At the cross.

Monday, June 18, 2018

There’s a Way Out of the Pit

Charlie was walking through the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya when his worst nightmare happened. He lost his footing and fell into the side ditch, which was filled with raw sewage. Charlie managed to spare the Bible he was carrying by holding it over his head, but the rest of him was covered. When he got back to the room where we were staying, I smelled him before I saw him. The pit he had been in, even for an instant, messed him up.

Prisons of old were sometimes just pits filled with muck and mud. Jeremiah the prophet was thrown into one, and would have died there had men not come and rescued him.

We have all been in a pit, and will most likely be in one again. Maybe our pit is not filled with mud or muck or raw sewage, but pits come in all sizes and shapes and substances. Fear or anxiety can become a pit. So can greed. Gluttony. Even self-righteousness, with proud hearts praying, “Thank God that I am not like other men.”

The real danger in being in a pit is that you can become numb to it and get to where you don’t care anymore that you are there. The people living in Jerusalem after the Babylonians had leveled the city were living in that condition. It took someone from the outside, Nehemiah, coming in and seeing the rubble, the walls broken down and the gates burned with fire to say, “Hey, you cannot live like this!” The people had grown numb to the pit.

Cold can become a pit that demoralizes men. It happened in Germany in the winter of 1944, as some of our soldiers lost heart and gave up hope in the bitter and brutal cold.

There are all kinds of pits. Tony Evans, a pastor in Dallas, said once that a few folks came to him and said, “You got some people we don’t care for coming to the church right now and we want you to know that if things don’t change, we’re out of here.” Tony said, “Bye!” Then he added, “If you stay around, I can help you deal with your heart problem, but to do that, we have to fix your feet right now.” They were convinced the pit of prejudice was a good place to stay.

Sometimes solving the pit problem starts with correcting where we allow our feet to go. The young man in Proverbs 7 fell into a pit of lust because he followed the adulterous woman to her house, “as an ox goes to the slaughter…he did not know that it would cost him his life.” Fix the feet.

Here’s the bad news. Sin always leads us into a pit, and sin is always going to be part of the story. Here’s the good news. Sin is not the end of the story. God is. He can rescue you and me out of the deepest pit. Corrie ten Boom said, “There is no pit that is so deep that God is not deeper still.”

Warning: You may well be in a pit and not realize it because your heart is dull of feeling and hearing. If Charlie had not thrown his clothes away and showered “Kibera” off of him, he would have eventually gotten used to the smell. Maybe you have gotten used to the stench of the sin-filled pit you are living in. I guarantee you that those around you have not. Ask them.

Mostly, cry out to God. He alone can pull you out of the pit and set your feet upon the solid rock. That’s the only safe place for your feet to be.

Monday, June 11, 2018

There is Correction for These Trajectories

I had the privilege to speak twice at a conference last weekend in Winston-Salem. After one of my talks, which was on “Time Management,” a family came up and introduced themselves to me. They live in Thomasville, and though they appreciated what I shared about managing ourselves and stewarding our time wisely, what they really wanted to talk about was the church. Specifically, their desire to be involved in a church that puts the Gospel first, and doesn’t separate the family at the front door. As I thought about that later, I was reminded of another conference I attended several years ago. There, I heard Al Mohler speak about eight trajectories that have led the church away from the Gospel. Here are four of his eight warnings, and then I would like to add one of my own.

The Therapeutic Trajectory: This rests on the belief that we really need a therapist, not a Savior. Most people would rather claim they have a sickness than admit their problem is sin. Recovery and rehab can “cover” a problem, but sin can only be removed by faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection.

The Pragmatic Trajectory: This is based on the idea that we should do what works in the church, whether it has biblical support or not. Mohler said, “A pragmatic approach can produce crowds that are not churches, and ‘converts’ who are not Christians.”

The Emotional Trajectory: This tendency puts a premium on what makes a person feel better based on personal preferences and experiences instead of on the Scripture and the way God reveals Himself. This leads to much felt-need, topical preaching, trying to scratch where people itch, or where they think they itch, instead of expository preaching that takes us back to the cross, where our real need can be exposed and taken care of.

The Materialist Trajectory: This trajectory is based on the belief that what we can touch and feel is more important than what is immaterial. This is the prosperity “gospel” that preaches that you can and should live your “best life” now.

Those are four of the eight trajectories Al Mohler presented. I would like to add one of my own that I call the Trained Professional Trajectory. This is based on the belief that programs and church staff are best equipped to disciple families. Timothy Paul Jones writes in his book, Perspectives on Family Ministry: “Suppose I called my wife this afternoon and announced, ‘Honey, guess what? Remember how you asked about a date tonight? Well, I hired a professional dater to take you to dinner and a movie. He’s much better at dating than me — plus, since I’ll be home, we won’t need a babysitter. Have a great time!’” How many nights would you be sleeping on the couch if you pulled that stunt?

Some things are just too important, too significant, to surrender to so-called professionals. So, why have we let that happen in our churches, where fathers have in large part been replaced by programs and staff? Church leaders can equip fathers to disciple their families, but leaders should not do it for them or hire a professional to do it for them. That is what has happened at an alarming rate in this country since World War II. Now, Jones writes, you will be hard pressed to find a church’s youth group that has a mission statement that says anything about the fathers of the youth. Jones read more than 100 mission statements on youth ministry websites before he found one that even mentioned the parents’ role, and that was in a sentence fragment.

The Bible has a correction for this trajectory: “And you fathers…bring (your children) up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” If you don’t know how to do that, you are a wise man if you ask for help. Abdication, letting the “professionals” do it, carries a price tag that is much too high for the families of this generation and the ones to come.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Be Watchful, Men

I remember when my second son was little, probably around 5 months old, and I laid him down on a kitchen countertop, just for a second, while I turned and opened the refrigerator door to get something. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I was training my son to obey. I laid him down and said, “Caleb, stay there.” As I reached into the fridge, just for a second, I heard a sickening thud behind me. I turned around in horror to find my son lying on the kitchen floor, startled for a moment, before he burst into a scream. At that precise moment, I heard another sound, a voice coming from the bedroom, saying, “What happened?” What happened was I took my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second, and it could have been disastrous.

Then there was the time I was 17 years old, driving my father’s Oldsmobile (and it really was my father’s Oldsmobile) in Charlotte. I had gone there with two high school friends to check out the university. I remember it like it was yesterday, driving down Independence Blvd., feeling like I might as well be in New York City, because I had never driven in traffic like that before. It was rush hour, I was nervous, driving with two friends, and not really respecting the seriousness of the moment, when it happened. I turned left at a stoplight, right into oncoming traffic. A city of Charlotte truck hit us broadside and smashed up the Olds, but thankfully we were not hurt.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I ran over to the truck to see if he was OK and the man waved it off. He said, “Yeah, I’m fine,” got out of his truck, assessed the damage to the front end, and got back in. I went back to my car and waited for the police to arrive. As soon as the policeman arrived, the truck driver got out of his car and was limping like he had a compound fracture in his right femur. I told the officer that the man had gotten out of his truck two minutes earlier and walked, not limped, around it, but the officer told me not to worry about it. So, I didn’t.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I had to call my father and tell him that I had a mental lapse while driving, just for a second, and wrecked his car. That wasn’t the worst of it. Six weeks later there was a knock at the door and my father was served with a lawsuit, because of the wreck. I thought I was going to pass out. Again, the whole thing happened because I had taken my eye off of my responsibilities, just for a second.

I can’t tell you how many times in nearly 36 years of marriage I have found my wife crying because I have taken my eye off of my responsibilities, and she has ended up having to carry something or take care of something that I was supposed to do. There is a saying that a woman notices when there is a leak in the roof, but the man doesn’t notice until the roof caves in. That can apply to actual leaks, or it can apply to problems with the finances, child discipline issues, problems with the marriage, and problems with the spiritual environment in the home. That’s why Paul wrote this: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

This is not a passive word that would describe something like watching television. If that is all that God is requiring of men, then the country is ablaze with his glory. Men everywhere are watching, but not in a biblical sense. In fact, watching television is probably the exact opposite of what this word means. The word is a command to wake up, to refrain from sleep, to engage in what is going on around you. You cannot be on autopilot in your spiritual life and be fulfilling this requirement of the Lord.

Be watchful, men. Engage with your family. Stand firm in a growing faith in God.

And don’t lay your 5-month-old on the kitchen counter. Not even for a second.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Don’t Forget the Fire

This past Sunday we had a baptism after our morning service. During the sermon, I had asked for 4 volunteers from among those who would be baptized to come to the front to help me with something. “It’s not going to be painful or embarrassing,” I told them. Three young girls immediately jumped up and started toward the front, and then one boy joined them, after I laughed and said, “Where are the young men?”

I was prepared for this demonstration because I had a conversation the day before with my son-in-law, a captain with the Leavenworth, Kansas fire department. He told me there are four positions on their fire trucks. On each truck there is a driver. You can probably figure out what he does. In the seat next to the driver sits the captain. He is in charge of the scene, whenever the truck arrives at the place to which it has been sent. Then behind these two are the nozzle man and the hydrant man. The nozzle man is in charge of the hoses, getting the pipes unrolled and to the structure that is on fire. The hydrant man is in charge of locating the nearest hydrant, so the pipe can be connected to a water source.

I assigned each of the four children a job, and told them that they were firefighters, on their way to a fire. We all looked out over the congregation, as though we could see the fire in the distance. I asked them to remind me what their jobs were. “Driver! Captain! Nozzle man! Hydrant man!” they shouted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I asked them again, “What’s your job?” They answered again, looking intently down the road at the blazing inferno. Then I said, “But wait a minute. What is your job, really? I mean, what are we going down the road to do?” They looked at me with puzzled expressions, and then one of the youngest girls said with authority, “Put out the fire.” Ah, yes. Don’t forget the fire.

Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples right before he ascended into heaven? In simplest terms he said: Go. Make. Disciples. We live to follow Jesus, and to make disciples of others who will grow as followers of Jesus Christ, and make disciples themselves.

In the same way that God did not design just “certain humans” to be able to reproduce, God did not call only certain Christians to “go, make disciples.” He has given each one of us who belong to him everything we need to be able to do that. If you say, “I can’t do it,” let me remind you that you have the Spirit of the living God in you. If you say, “but evangelism is not my gift,” that is OK, too. It is not most people’s gift. But the gift of evangelism is just an extra empowerment to do what each of us is called to do: be a witness for Jesus Christ.

Some say, “Well, I witness with my life.” That’s great! But when Paul asked for the Ephesian church to pray for him, he didn’t say, “pray that my life might be more visible to the lost.” He asked them to “pray for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Sometimes people misquote St. Francis of Assisi, who never said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” The closest he got to it was encouragement that we must make sure our lives match what we say. To say “preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” is like saying, “Feed the hungry at all times, if necessary, use food.”

If we are to make disciples, we will need to use words. If you say you don’t have time, you misunderstand the command. Jesus was saying, “As you go,” make disciples. It doesn’t mean you have to stand on a street corner and preach, although you can. It means that your lifestyle intentionally becomes gospel-oriented.

Like the four firefighters, we each have different talents, ministries, and callings. But they all are given by God to serve the same purpose: to make disciples. Don’t forget the fire.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Five Lessons for Graduates and Others

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Here’s the story, as it is recorded in the Bible, with some commentary along the way by yours truly.

Jehoshaphat got word that three nations were joining forces to come against Jerusalem. So he gathered the people, proclaimed a fast, and prayed, “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” May I interrupt the story to say, this is a great motto for graduates? “I have no power. I don’t know what to do.” That is true of you and me, whether we believe it or not. Here’s the truth about how God responds to such humility, to all who also say, “My eyes are on God.” He loves it. He gives grace. He runs to show himself strong on our behalf.

I imagine God hearing this prayer of Jehoshaphat and turning to his angels in heaven, saying, “Oh! Did you hear that? This is a man who runs to me for refuge. Stand back and watch this.” God then sent his prophet to Jehoshaphat and said, “Don’t be afraid. The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s.”

Lesson 1: When God is our refuge, our battles become his battles. Are you trying to keep a stiff upper lip and ‘go it alone?’ Why would you do that?

Then the prophet told the king what God had said, that the people were to go to a certain place the next morning. “You will not need to fight in this battle,” God said. “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.”

Lesson 2: Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to be still and trust God. It is much harder to stand and see, than it is to run away, or to run and fight. Sometimes we think that standing and trusting isn’t doing anything. We need to remember the words of Jesus in response to the question, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Believe God. Run to him for refuge.

Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah all got up early the next morning.

Lesson 3: When God is moving, much sleep is overrated at best, and a total waste of time at worst.

They went to the place God had told them, sending the praise singers out first.

Lesson 4: When our confidence is in God, we will sing praises to Him. We will not be able to help it.

When the praises started, God rose up and set ambushes against the enemies of Judah. Here’s where the story makes us do a double take. Two of the nations that had come together to attack Jerusalem suddenly attacked the third, utterly destroying it. If that is not strange enough, check this out: The two armies who had combined forces to kill the third army then glared at each other and started killing each other off, until there was no one left. How did that work? I imagine the last two people looked at each other, said, “Ready, set, go!” and each ran his sword into the other at the same time. When the people of Judah got there, they looked at the scene, and all they saw were dead bodies. “None had escaped.”

Lesson 5: We don’t have to pick up after God; he is thorough in everything he does.

There you have it: five lessons to live by, and not just for graduates. These truths apply to all who would humbly follow Jesus Christ, giving daily to him what has been given freely by him: our very lives.

Monday, May 14, 2018

God’s Refrigerator Art of Motherhood

A little boy said to the girl next door, “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day?” She said, “You could decide to keep your room clean and orderly, and go to bed as soon as she calls you. You could brush your teeth without having to be told, and quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” He replied, “No, I mean something practical.”

On the eve of Mother’s Day, I offer three practical gifts from Scripture. These are part of God’s refrigerator art if you will, pictures of faithful motherhood.

In Psalm 128, the mother is pictured as a fruitful vine in the very heart of the house. The godly mother has a central place of responsibility in the home that, though she may not see it through diaper pails and dishpan hands, will bear fruit for generations to come.

In 1 Samuel 1, the mother is pictured as the greatest intercessor her son would ever know. It was Hannah’s prayer that touched the hem of God’s garment, and it was Hannah’s spiritual influence on Samuel that shaped and prepared him to fulfill God’s calling on his life.

A London editor once submitted to Winston Churchill a list of all those who had been Churchill’s teachers. Churchill returned the list with this comment: “You have omitted to mention the greatest of my teachers — my mother.” And Charles Spurgeon said, “I cannot tell you how much I owe to the custom on Sunday evenings while we were yet children for Mother to stay home with us, and then we sat around the table and read verse after verse and she explained the Scriptures to us. Then came a mother’s prayer; and some of the words of our mother’s prayer we shall never forget even when our hair is gray.” I don’t know if there is a more powerful force on this earth than a mother’s prayers for her children.

In 2 Timothy 1, the mother is pictured as a woman of genuine faith. Apparently Timothy’s father was not a believer, but God worked through his mother and his grandmother to give him a sound foundation. Is there anything more precious in a mother than genuine faith? The man who would become the most beloved companion of the greatest missionary the world has ever known learned the Word of God as a young child on his mother’s knee. She had genuine faith, not the wishy-washy easy-believism that so many in the church subscribe to today. Genuine faith impacts every person it touches.

Consider Susanna Wesley, who was the youngest of twenty-five children and who gave birth to nineteen herself. Eleven of her children died in childhood. Her husband left her for a time, even serving extended sentences in debtor’s prison. O, how God used Susanna Wesley to give away her faith to her children. As each child turned five, she tutored them in the alphabet and then, beginning in Genesis, she taught them to read, word by word, from the Scriptures. “I wonder at your patience,” her husband Samuel once said. “You have told that child twenty times the same thing.” “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times,” Susanna Wesley answered, “I should have lost all my labor. It was the twentieth time that crowned it!”

I am thankful for the mother who raised me and for the wife and mother I love and live with. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who serve so faithfully. You are a gift that could never be repaid in this lifetime.