Posts tagged #Charles Fox

Meet a Ministry Team

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Proclamation’s Blogging Ministry Team

If the Internet were a cheese, it would be Limburger, heated, slowly for hours. The smell of its presence is inescapable no matter where you go. Although the technology itself is morally neutral, the amount and type of Internet usage can be as delightful as connecting with friends or shared family pictures, as comical as <<insert your favorite silly cat video here>>, or as dark as walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. No single word can encapsulate this technological tangle, but one might try; “shallow,” “comforting,” or “insidious,” “provocative,” or “dangerous,” “threatening,” or “refreshing.” It all depends on where you go. The challenge is that the choices are many, access is easy, and the available content represents a huge spread from God-honoring to blasphemous. With a few “clicks” a person can find truth that leads to life or lies that condemn to eternal death.

The blogging ministry at Proclamation seeks to speak, into the Internet maelstrom, words of truth, guidance, encouragement, and hopefully, a little humor and insight. We seek to enlighten, investigate, and explain. Our topics range from worship to apologetics, evangelism to prayer, and even current events, (although we carefully dodge discussing politics.) At all times, at the bedrock of each word we write is our desire to bring glory to God and to fulfill the Great Commission; always with the Bible as our ultimate source of truth and understanding.

It is easy to find the fruit of our blogging ministry on our church website, (www.proclamationpca.org), by clicking on “blog,” in the top navigation of the site.

How you can help:
1) Pray for our team of writers. We want to “get it right,” which means taking time to know God, know our topics, and then, make it come alive! Pray for us to receive the spark of inspiration and the time to write.

2) Read the blogs, provide comments, and share the links. As typical aspiring (and starving) writers, we all want our words to go viral, start a revival, and transform the world. (Sorry, I couldn’t think of another word that ended -al.) More seriously, this is a ministry, and we do want God to be seen and glorified, people to be challenged, and hopefully, some to claim the name, “Christian.” And it is simple math, if 50 people in our church post the link on their Facebook page….

3) Provide feedback to our team. As always, writers are shy, mousy people who hide out typing in their private basement sancti, (What is plural for sanctum?) dreaming that someone, somewhere really cares. (Don’t tell them I said this, though.) But DO accost them after service, point out every error of punctuation or syntax, pat them on the head and make suggestions for their next blog.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Why it is Best to Consider Yourself a Murderer

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Why it is best to consider yourself a murderer.

 

In the end, knowing that you are a murderer at heart opens the door to salvation.

 

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.[1]

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.[2]

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.[3] (RSV)

 

 What do you do when someone hits you, bumps you, insults you, or hurts you in any way? Or, make it simple, what do you think of the person who cuts you off in traffic?

When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount he ushered in a new kingdom that turned the whole world upside down and inside out.[4] In his message he raises the standard of inter-relational ethics to impossible standards; well, at least impossible without God, but that is his point. He exposes the natural tendencies of the human heart and critiques the best that man can do with the help of laws to contain those natural impulses. Finally, he requires new attitudes that can only be found in the heart of a person who knows the love and grace of God and who has been transformed and equipped to live and love as a new creation.

Our normal human tendency, when we are slapped, is to escalate the violence. An accidental bump in the marketplace or an inadvertent word becomes an offense which leads to a grudge and becomes a feud which is passed on to the generations. The response to a slap is to find a baseball bat which leads to a bigger stick, and then a gun and finally, in the end, to murder. Murder leads to murder, family hates family, clan hates clan, and nations go to war long past the point where the original bump in the marketplace has passed into legend.

Understanding this natural tendency, God gave the ancient Israelites a higher standard of justice. In Exodus 21, the chapter right after the presentation of the Ten Commandments, God lays out a system of justice that was often summarized with verses 23 and 24, “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (ESV) Although the imagery is slightly gory, this simple statement is the starting point for any contemplation of justice. Rather than having an offense escalate, any system of justice should maintain a balanced system where the recompense for an offense is proportional and also satisfies the circumstance so there is no ongoing escalation of uncontrolled “repayments.”[5]
Jesus points to this view of the law as a useful starting point to overturn the self-righteousness of man. If someone hurts us, under the law, we want to pat ourselves on the back and say that we only took back what we deserved. “He slapped me, I slapped him. We’re even.”[6] At one level this is just; but Jesus has something so much greater in mind. In our normal, law-less mode we are slapped and we want to destroy our neighbor. Under the law we are slapped and after a slap back, we walk away hating each other. In the upside-down kingdom, Jesus wants us, when we are slapped, to return utter vulnerability in the hope that our response of grace will lead to a restored and improved relationship.

Jesus wants to set a new standard and a new goal. He wants the standard to be love matching God’s love and the goal to be new-found and restored relationship. In our natural state the goal is destruction and there is no hope of restoration or relationship, in fact, we don’t even seek it. Under the law we are slapped and we want to terminate the relationship on equal terms. The goal is to walk away hating each other but at least not making things worse. The best we can hope for is, “He slapped me, I slapped him, we’re even… the jerk.”

But in the upside-down kingdom Jesus wants us, in the face of an offense, to respond with love and get as compensation … nothing. Moreover, he wants us to offer more than what is expected or required. Instead of justice that is even[7], when someone hits us, he wants us to offer the other cheek also.

Let’s ponder why Jesus uses the image of a slap. Being slapped in the face is more than just painful, it is a challenge or an insult. It is an intimate gesture and a personal affront. Jesus raises the bar, using an image of a destruction of fellowship that is face to face, deliberate and coldly unavoidable. We know who struck us and we know the slap was delivered with a purpose. In return, the Godly response is not only that we don’t return the slap, which would be “just” under the law, but we don’t even try to defend ourselves against the indignity. We don’t seek to defend ourselves, because we have a new goal – restoration.

When someone strikes us, or insults us, or shuns us, or hurts us in any way, we are immediately placed at a relational crossroads. Our response will either end the relationship (or start down that road) or restore the relationship. Instead of being satisfied with the end of relationship, turning the other cheek means that we chase down the person who struck us and offer them a chance to try again and to not strike the other cheek. Our driving passion is to restore the relationship through the love of God with no immediate consideration given to what has been done to us or whether we have been hurt. There may be consequences or reparations or issues to resolve, but that is a later part of the process to be worked out later.

Even the most superficial evaluation of this upside-down way of living should stun us. Not only would this attitude transform all human relationships, but through careful assessment of our own selfish hearts, we immediately realize that this attitude is impossible to cultivate without a profound transformation, first, of our whole lives. We need a new understanding, a new perspective, one that overturns our natural way of thinking. We need our hearts totally transformed from self-centeredness to utter selflessness. Even our best actions and habits need to be re-directed as new fruit of a transformed concept of the goal of restoration. The action of turning the other cheek can only be the result of a revolutionized way of thinking and a heart that has been transformed by God.

Jesus knew this and made it clear as he ushered in the upside-down kingdom. He discusses murder as a way to reveal our hearts in a penetrating and inescapable way. We all know that murder is at the extreme end of relational destruction. Jesus uses murder because it is such an absolute that we all understand. He traps us because He he doesn’t want us to be able to somehow claim self-righteously, “I’m okay because I haven’t murdered anyone.” His new kingdom trap works like this; “If you even call someone a fool, that is the same a murder.”[8] This challenge does three things. First of all, we must realize that we are all guilty of murder – nobody can make the claim, “I’m okay.” To identify a murderer, we no longer need a dead body, the proof starts in our innermost thoughts.

Secondly, he pushes the ethical requirement off the scales (just like turning the other cheek). It isn’t good enough to not murder someone, you can’t even think ill of a person. This forces upon us a crushing implication – if we are not to think ill of a person, that means that we must think well of everyone. Jesus makes this clear when he talks about how to treat our enemies. Imagine someone who is deliberately pursuing your destruction. Not just careless, not merely thoughtless, not simply inconsiderate; the person wants to hurt you, destroy your reputation, take away your wealth and he is doing everything possible to carry out his harmful intentions against you. Jesus says, “Love that person.” <<Insert animated GIF of a jaw dropping here.>> And here is the shocker, to your enemy, to love your enemy, you can’t be careless, or thoughtless, or inconsiderate. It isn’t enough to merely not be offended – you can’t be indifferent. Your love needs to be thoughtful, purposeful, and deliberate. You need to do everything possible to carry out your loving plans to that enemy as he seeks to destroy you. Jesus wants you to pray for that person, give him your things, and invite him into your home. You don’t merely avoid your enemy, you chase after him to present your other cheek for slapping.

Thirdly, and this is true any time we see the standard of God, we are faced with our absolute helplessness and our desperate need for God’s grace to be in us and filling us. On our own we are the murderers, we are the enemy to those around us. Under the Law, the best that we can hope for is to produce a legalistic response where we restrain physical murder. But mere restraint will never free us from being murderers in our hearts nor will it free us to love anyone else no matter who they are. C.S. Lewis wrote a poem that brings this to life, As the Ruin Falls. In it he says,

 

“All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.[9]

 

This is why Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The only love that we can produce on our own is a self-centered, self-seeking, greedy love of Me. That is our natural state. Under the law we can (maybe) rise high enough to keep our external actions from revealing the inner selfishness. To love our neighbors and enemies, to turn the other cheek, to free ourselves from murder, we need to be transformed into people who are filled with the grace of God and live by it.

What Jesus said in these verses is hard to take. Most of us see ourselves as “really a pretty good person.” Human culture shoves this concept down our throats. We are endlessly pummeled with the message that we are “basically good” from psychologists, politicians and celebrities.[10]  It is pleasant and comforting and nice when people say this to us, because it is what we want to believe anyway. However, in our more private and introspective moments we sometimes admit that we have “made mistakes.” This statement is normally linked most logically to some kind of statement like, “but everybody makes mistakes,” which is supposed to justify our littler less significant mistakes. Or if someone presses us into a corner, we admit that we “might have done something wrong,” but in the perfect extreme defense we add, “well, maybe, but I haven’t killed anyone.” And at long last, we are finally trapped by the words of Jesus.

Physical murder is not the standard anymore. It is easy for most of us to keep from actual murder. But, if you murder someone in your heart, if you look down on someone, if you dismiss or disregard someone, ignore or show indifference, you are a murderer. And ironically our primary defense reveals that this is what we do all the time. We explain away our sins by comparing ourselves to someone else. In the end, we exalt ourselves in the condemnation of others. We see that we are a little bit wrong, but that other person is the real fool. Raca! If only those people were like me! Raca! That jerk cut me off! Raca! We condemn everyone as a fool every time they don’t meet up to our standards. And when we do that, we become murderers.

Jesus wants us to see ourselves as murderers because that strips away all of our self-confidence and self-sufficiency. If you see yourself as a murderer, you realize that you are worse off than your worst fears.[11] This gives us a desperate humility. We gain a new perspective of ourselves, a new perspective of others, a new perspective on our situation, and a new appreciation of our need for the grace of God.

Your new self-perspective, crushing as it is, puts you at the utter bottom of the moral stack, where you can finally be free and stop thinking so highly of yourself. You certainly can’t look at anyone else and claim that you are somehow better. From this point of view, when someone slaps you, the indignation is gone, because you know that you are a slapper, too. Still though, it is hard being slapped. How do we overcome?

The only deliverance from our state of desperate humility is through faith in Jesus Christ. He received the Ultimate Slap, the rejection of his own heavenly Father and the punishment of all the sins of mankind. He bore every insult, bump, anger, murder, hatred, and indignation, so that we don’t have to. When we look at Jesus and seize desperately upon his nail-scarred hand, we can finally find what we need to overlook the bump, terminate the feud, and chase down our enemies to offer them another swing at our cheek.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Mt 5:21–22). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (113). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Mt 5:43–45). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] It is important to note that all of these principles were already revealed in the Old Testament, the difference is that the nature of the kingdom changes when the King arrives.

[5] Please note that there is NO sense of punishment in this system. Compensation and restoration is the assumed purpose of justice. The goal is never to “make him pay for what he did.” Jesus, of course, pushes that to the limit in the Sermon on the Mount. It is valuable to note that as a culture moves further and further from God, this sense of proportion is increasingly lost.

[6] Which misses the point anyway. Even this view of law should awaken us to an “Aha!” moment. How does hitting someone back accomplish anything of value? Any opportunity for reconciliation, or to show the other person their fault through our grace and forgiveness is lost.

[7] At home, the natural tendency is that everyone gets the exact same amount of cake. The proper response is that if someone takes ALL of the cake and I don’t get ANY, that is ok. As Christians, our goal is not “what is fair in my eyes,” but sacrifice for the delight of others.

[8] A spoken word is more than just noise that comes out of our mouths. What we say reflects the profoundest beliefs and commitments of our hearts. When we call a person “Fool!” we are making a pronouncement of purpose and commitment. When we denigrate another, we are saying what we think they are worth, and what they deserve, and what we would do to them if we had the means. In the context of our discussion, it makes us the enemy who wants to destroy the person, that is, we are the murderer. Jesus nails us and our narcissistic world further when he uses the word “Raca.” Raca means empty, that is, you are “Raca,” you are nothing. This passive indifference that treats someone as if they are nothing is perhaps even worse than murder. Every human is of infinite consequence, and for us to dismiss anyone as meaningless is as far from love as you can get.

[9] C.S.Lewis, Poems, “As the Ruin Falls” (1st pub. 1964), pp. 109-110.

[10] The irony is that what they are really saying is, “I am a good person,” with no basis for such a preposterous claim. Since there is no way to prove this, the only remaining logic left is to make a claim that all people are good, and it is just the rare other person who has somehow gone wrong. Five minutes in the real world dispels the fantasy that bad people are “rare.”

[11] Jack Miller would tell us in church over and over – “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”

Apologetics in the 21st Century

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Apologetics for the 21st Century

In the open marketplace of religions, ideas, and wishes, people don’t normally rush to the “Christianity” shelf, take down the gospel, and bustle over to the cash register to buy it for dinner. By nature, shoppers avoid truth that requires them to relinquish their self-centeredness and submit to a holy, perfect, and rather demanding God, who quite selfishly, it seems, insists that everyone does things his way. The fact that doing things his way is the only path to joy, love, peace, life, freedom, sanity, and the rest of the “Top fifty Things that make life worth living” list is something that the unregenerate consumer can’t see. In the end, the remedy for this shopping conundrum is the cross of Jesus, applied by the Spirit, in response to a proffered message, and proffering that message, my friends, is our job. As shopkeepers in this trendy marketplace we have a crucial area of study and discipline called Christian Apologetics that is dedicated to explaining, defending, and proving the Christian message to reluctant consumers who are hostile, sinful, blind and rebellious, and to Christians who mostly aren’t quite as hostile, blind, and rebellious. Apologetics is the discipline that gives us what we need to divert shoppers from making a life-threatening purchase, and direct them rather, to receiving the life-giving gift.

So, let me start by saying, from my first exposure, I have always found apologetics to be the most crucial, misunderstood, irrelevant, and boring topic. This is profoundly ironic because I was brought into the kingdom, kicking and screaming at the hands of a brilliant apologist who argued past my blindness and objections. But, I’ll let you in on a secret, for reaching most people, classical, historic apologetics is a miss. The reason for the modern failure of classical apologetics is that it is always taught as though people are somehow inherently committed to some form of logic, and deep, unbiased, and careful consideration and evaluation of the facts. Most apologetics assume that people think this way:

All humans are mortal.

Socrates is human.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

Nice, neat, sound, clear, irrefutable. Syllogism. Statement, statement, conclusion. There. Believe in Jesus.

Let’s look at the way real people think.

I think that humans should follow their dreams.

Socrates is boring

Hold on, I need to respond to this text.

Huh? What? Wait! Are you listening? Question everything? Feelings! Emote, guess, wish. Vague. Believe whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

I was recently speaking with a twenty-something graduate student who told me, in sum, “It isn’t just that nobody follows rules of logic, it isn’t just that they have a skewed view of the facts, the problem is that we now live in a culture that doesn’t even believe that facts exist. I tell my writing students that in meaningful argumentation they need to discern the difference between facts and opinion. I point out that we can verify facts, but we can’t argue with facts. The students respond, ‘What do you mean? Of course, we question and challenge facts.’” In the 21st century, we aren’t arguing over what is true, or not. We aren’t arguing the philosophical concept, “How does one discern truth.” We are talking to a world where people don’t believe that truth (or facts) even exist.

In the old days, we would say, “The sky is blue,” and an argumentative person would say, “sometimes the sky is grey.” Hmmm… that leaves an opening for potential dialog about whether they should believe in blue skies.

Now, if you say, “The sky is blue,” the answer is, “My sky is any color I want, and why are you pushing your blue skyism on me! Stop being such a hater!”

Reality is no longer a question of history, or facts, or truth. Each person has their own reality, and each person makes their own reality, based on dreams and wishes. Jean Twenge, in her book, Generation Me (which we will be looking at closely) provides endless examples of this:

“One professor encountered the GenMe faith in self-belief quite spectacularly in an undergraduate class at the University of Kansas. As she was introducing the idea that jobs and social class were based partially on background and unchangeable characteristics, her students became skeptical. That can’t be right, they said, you can be anything you want to be. The professor, a larger woman with no illusions about her size, said, “So you’re saying that I could be a ballerina?” “Sure, if you really wanted to,” said one of the students.” (Twenge, Generation Me, 2014 – Kindle p. 113)

How do we present the gospel as a desperate necessity in a world where reality doesn’t exist?

That is what this blog series is about. Although in this blog post I am only going to introduce five general areas of preparation and discipline that we need to have in place to be successful in bringing the gospel to bear in the 21st century.

Message – Ultimately the content of our message is critical. The barest faith requires an object that must be understood and upon which the conviction of assent can be placed. There are some message minimums; God, sin, Jesus, repentance. And those minimums must be understood as they are revealed in the Bible. I won’t put the entire story here, in the midst of this summary, but it’ll be at end of this blog.

Messenger – God's salvation is not received merely by giving assent to a body of principles we need to obey, but upon a person we need to love. Certainly, the Bible is packed with endless crucial truths and requirements for life, but a person, Jesus, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is through incarnation that God makes himself present in the life of his people. In the same way, we need to be the right people as we pass on the message to the world. This not only includes a holy lifestyle and a living faith, we need to be intimate with God through Jesus Christ and loving others the way he does. People won’t care for our message if we don’t care about them. (Much of this is the content we will be looking at in the AgapeStorm blogs.)

Messagee – (I know this isn’t a word, but what else do you call the recipient of the message, if you are enslaved to having all “M” words?) We need to understand the people to whom we are talking. This is a theological task, of course, because the Bible tells us a ton about human’s, but it is also one of inquiry and investigation. Ultimately, we need to know what makes people tick, how they view themselves and the world. Why are people more afraid of the opinions of celebrities than the hand of God? How do you engage a person who has retreated into an empty phonelife? We need to know the hearts of the people God wants us to reach so we can mold the message into a compelling story that they want to hear.

Method – Ultimately, we need to be fully prepared to engage our hearers with a spectrum of content including a clear gospel message as well as arguments, facts, and quotes from C.S Lewis or other helpful authorities. But we need to be winsome and engaging. Christianity is no longer the first voice among many, it is a muted and shunned voice in a cacophony. Our approach to the lost and fearful must be bold and assertive, yet compassionate. We need to be truthful but understanding. We need to be evocative and provocative and challenging and intimate, avuncular and simple, mighty and wise. But we need to do this in a way that competes successfully with Steam, Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, Netflix, and Facebook, CandyCrush, Bejeweled, and Fortnite. Ahhhhhh!!! And, actually, we need to know how to properly use our iPhones and Facebook and the rest to share the gospel.

Milieu – We need to penetrate the soupy mire in which we live and understand it intimately and craftily. Only in this way can we be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) The gospel is supra-cultural. It is always relevant, and it challenges the assumptions and authorities of every culture, nation, political and intellectual affiliation, and every philosophy or religion made by man. It also provides an answer to the darkness and lostness of every eon and epoch, and it can utterly obliterate the fears and enslavement that people feel as they endure their way through life. The brilliant illumination of the gospel makes the ways and schemes of mankind plain to our eyes so that we can take that light into the dark and treacherous places where people are perishing.

These five parts of 21st century apologetics will be the focus of this blog series. I can’t promise to be as perfectly methodical as a college course, but hopefully, together, we can learn how to bring Jesus to those who need him and his love.

Footnote #1 - Here you go, the message of the gospel, as promised.

Every human being is sinful by nature and therefore, appropriately, separated from God who is holy and perfect in every way. This leaves mankind in a predicament – as sinners, they are spiritually dead and essentially incapable of saving themselves or even of searching for God at all! In fact, by nature, apart from God’s gracious intervention to open our eyes and change our hearts, we are rebellious people who hate God and flee from Him. But God, out of His great love and mercy established a plan to save us that He has worked out through history and revealed through his word, the Bible. His plan is centered around and completed through and by His Son, Jesus. God sent His son, Jesus, to earth to die on our behalf and take the punishment for our sin. As a result of this amazing sacrifice, we can now be saved through faith in Jesus and in what He has done. When we are united to Jesus by faith, we are adopted by God into His family and we receive all of the promises of God, forgiveness for our sins, a new heart, and the guarantee of eternal life! We are new people, part of a family; children of God and brothers and sisters to each other.

The gospel is the power of salvation for those who believe. It is through the gospel that broken people are made new. It is through the gospel that hurting people find peace and freedom. It is through the gospel that hardened sinners receive a new heart, and it is through the gospel that confused and lost people are transformed by the renewing of their minds. A person who is united to Christ by faith has hope in this crazy world, peace in the face of chaos, and purpose in brokenness. This is the Message.

Footnote #2 – Aren’t we Reformed here?!?!?!?!?

I can’t possibly escape from an introductory blog on apologetics without bringing up Cornelius Van Til. If I don’t mention him, someone might break into my house and steal my diploma from Westminster Seminary. Someone might ask, “Why aren’t you just teaching Van Til?”

Cornelius Van Til was an early 20th century theologian and master of Apologetics. Summarizing Van Til’s model of apologetics would be an epic undertaking because he was so scary brilliant and philosophical, and I’m just not smart enough. He offered a stunning barrage of rebuttal against the classical apologetics model where the apologist uses evidence to convince someone that it is in their best interest to believe in Jesus. His basic premise, and I will receive at least 47 dozen corrections here, is that the Holy Spirit convinces people of the gospel, not us. With that being true, our approach should not be to argue about historical facts or use philosophical arguments, but rather, we need to understand each person’s belief structure, the foundation upon which they build their lives, and bring the gospel to bear on what we find there. He called this presuppositional apologetics, and he believed, and I agree, that his method puts God back in command of our presentation, and Jesus as the center of the story.

My contention would be, actually, that I have taken what I learned from Van Til and molded the pieces into something more easily accessible for normal people, like myself, who think that Socrates, although not necessarily boring, is certainly far too philosophical. Understanding the recipients (messagees) and their/our culture will help us to dig in on the presuppositions that define our hearer’s thoughts, concerns and fears. Understanding ourselves properly as the messenger who needs to be the right messenger brings our own presuppositions into focus and submits them to the scrutiny of the gospel searchlight. Our method is to engage people in their world of ideas, hopes and dreams with a message that is as eternal and unchanging as the God who wrote it.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Posted on February 14, 2019 and filed under Exploring Christianity?.

AgapeStorm

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The Calm, Crazy, Whirlwind of Love

Read 1 John 4:7-21 and John 3:16 3 times, slowly.

As soon as we say the word, love, we find ourselves, metaphorically, on a rickety rope bridge swinging and creaking wildly in a tempestuous wind, dangerously high above treacherous rocks of meaning. We all think we know where we are, and despite the danger, we feel that simple calm and confidence; love is so familiar. We all know what love is, surely. It is stamped into our DNA so securely that, when we were young, we would ask, “How do you know love when you see it?” The answer is always the same, “Oh, yoU’LL know…”

And we do, kinda. Love is a feeling and a commitment, a force and a goal. When we’re “in it,” love makes our knees weak, or strong, depending on the situation. We become heroic, or bashful; silly or serious or forgiving. Love somehow breaks us and re-makes us, wherever it takes us. It generates more poems and songs and purpose and confusion than even our pets or our cars. We know with confidence from some mystical feeling that the Beatles were right, love really is all we need, or, for a song reference with far too many artists to mention; love does make the world go round.

The irony of the lyrics to these sappy songs is that, for a Christian, these largely superficial sentiments ring true in Jesus Christ. Since God is Love, love truly is all we need, and since Jesus is God, love actually does make the world, indeed, the entire universe, go ‘round. The rest of the irony, however, is that apart from God, love is confusing and difficult to define and understand. Of course, confusion is not God’s purpose, because love is central to who he is and at the core of his plan.

So, it is no surprise that for something so critical, God has a lot to say. Love is at the very core of the eternal, triune relationship (More on that in a future blog), such that, when God decides, together, to create and sustain an entire history of the cosmos, love explodes from within the Godhead and washes over every aspect of that story. In many ways, love is the why of everything God does for us. (Footnote: His own glory could also be used as the why of everything he does.) How do we know this?

There are three ways that God reveals love to us.

First, God demonstrates love in all he does. When you open the Bible, you see what God does. Every action is that of a loving father with his treasured children. The list of ways that he does this is endless, because every action he takes is an act of love. He walked with Adam and Eve, then disciplined them, banishing them from the garden. He called and protected Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their families, and their descendents; the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea - everyone of his children. He listens to prayers, delivers from distress; heals, guides, teaches. He also punishes, disciplines, reconciles and restores. Every single action of God is ultimately a model of what love looks like in action. There is no better way to see what love looks like than to see everything that God does.

Second, God defines love over and over in his word. The passages abound. He tells us the characteristics of love and how to recognize it clearly. He tells us what love is, and what it isn’t. In his word, we learn why love has power and how to wield it for the good of others. Stay tuned, we are going to wade into many passages that will threaten to drown us.

Third, God incarnates love in Jesus Christ. Although I mention this last, it is by far the first in priority. It is no stretch to say that Jesus is the perfect expression of love, because Christ’s incarnation is how God chose to show us his love; a love that for us in the loftiest, most profound, and most intimate possible expression. And wonder of wonders; the eternal, triune love that Jesus has for us is best experienced through personal relationship as we are united to God through faith in Jesus. This is why John 3:16 is so precious to the church, God so loved the world that he gave his son. Wow! Suddenly, Love makes sense, but when held in contrast, this true love of God demolishes every other lesser concept of love.

Our passage from first John is a warehouse of content regarding love, but for now, we need to cook up two concepts from the passage and season it with a few other familiar ideas. Verse 11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, and verse 19, We love because he first loved us. These two verses simmer in the pot and we are led to two inescapable conclusions. First, God wants us to love others the way that HE loves others (and us, by the way.) Second, God is the source of that love. The seasonings for this verse-stew are the two Great Commandments and loving our enemies. We must love God first (heart, soul, mind, strength). We must love our neighbors as ourselves. We must love our enemies.

This is a high calling. Love everyone the way God does.

Let’s cut to the chase. What is Love? What is God’s Love? What characterizes the love that God demonstrates, defines, and incarnates? What is the nature of the love we need to hold for everyone?

Here goes: God’s love is fervent, sacrificial, purposeful, gracious, expressive, bold, and covenantal. That is AgapeStorm. That is the challenge. We will begin to tuck in to this feast in the next blog.

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Posted on January 25, 2019 and filed under Teaching.

Proc Talk: Theology and Current Events at Proclamation

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Not Your Fine China

In early December over 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, China, were arrested and detained by the Chinese government. Among the detainees was the Pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong. Their son is currently staying with the Pastor’s mother. The arrest included church leaders, seminary students, and worshippers at the church, many who were in a worship service, but also many were arrested in their homes or on the city streets. As is typical of religious persecution in closed nations, there has been no way to make contact with the people arrested and there have been reports of torture and coercion.

Although the church in China is often understood as the fastest growing in the world, this is often matched with wave upon wave of official persecution from the Chinese government. It is remarkable that the church in China wears their persecution proudly like a badge of honor, and the members have stood strong and faithful. The government allows the church to meet in an “official” capacity where the teaching and worship is carefully controlled by the government. In contrast, there is a thriving unofficial church that loves the Bible, teaches the gospel, and worships the risen Jesus. The unofficial church has a stance of “faithful disobedience” to the government, which brings a heightened level of animosity upon the church. This latest round of persecution and incarceration of the church is part of a concerted action against all religions which include a massive round up of Muslims who are being held in retraining camps.

As always, God has worked in both ordinary and miraculous ways in and through this persecution. The stories of God’s faithfulness and the perseverence of his people are painful, touching and awe inspiring. We need to pray. We need to be aware. We need to worship God for his wisdom and love.

For an article that contains far more details and a copy of Wang Yi’s letter to his church, navigate to the following link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/persecuted-chinese-pastor-issues-declaration-faithful-disobedience/

This blog was written by Charles Fox

Treasuring God's Truth in Your Heart

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2 Timothy 3:15-17: Navigation Our Cultural Soup

In preparation, read 2 Timothy 3 – the whole chapter

2 Timothy 3:15-17: And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Antifa, Border walls, Caravans of illegals; this is the Alphabet Soup of difficulties that will confront you no matter which news source you choose these days. Division, Election fraud, Fake news; we are bombarded with an endless assault of concerns and threats from a cacophony of voices and experts and pundits and celebrities clamoring for our attention and trust. The voices are urgent – the call to action is unmistakable, and we need to choose – NOW! Our natural tendency is to take sides, somewhere, and align ourselves with what we consider, “The Voice of Sense,” which tends to be, as often as not, politically driven and as variable as the tides. Certainly parties and interest groups tend to have a general alignment, and many solutions suggested have merit and deserve consideration. Nevertheless. it is dangerous to put our confidence in political parties and causes which focus on symptoms and behaviors, but not the cause.

In our passage, Paul is instructing Timothy how to navigate through life, because, “in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” (3:1) His advice to Timothy has two sides; Paul reveals to us the true cause of our world’s difficulties, and a guaranteed solution to navigate and overcome those difficult times when they come.

To examine the ways that we as Christians should live faithfully in the midst of human culture is an issue that would break the bounds of this simple blog, or even a dozen blogs. Summed up in a phrase, our call includes upholding justice and truth in a world of sin, deceit, and selfishness. Our passage indicates that doing so comes with a challenge; “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We can expect this because our world’s problems can’t be solved through headlines or legislation. Personal and cultural salvation are found in a life transformed by Truth and light, but we live in a world committed to the darkness.

The Bible explains why the times are difficult; and the painful focus is the wickedness of the human heart. Verses 2 through 9 present a massive litany of human sins; heart attitudes, really, that are at the core of every social ill; people who are lovers of self and money, proud, disobedient, treacherous, avoiding the truth, lovers of pleasure to mention a small part. The list is devastating, but it rivets us on this glorious truth; we can’t solve cultural ills through new programs or laws through parties or social reform. (Although getting those right is helpful and as people of faith, we are called to pursue what is called primary justice – establishing right (just) relationships between people.) The solution comes through the transformation of the hearts of men and women through the power of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ! No election will ever make anything great outside of the truth and justice, and renewed life, found in being united to Jesus by faith.

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This is the message that Paul uses to encourage Timothy. He says that Timothy should, “continue in what he learned and firmly believed… the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” Those “sacred writings,” which Paul goes on to describe, are “breathed out by God” himself. And at this triumphant blast, we must pause.

God breathed! There are numerous pieces of nearly infinite depth to consider here; let’s ponder three. The first is that the Word of God, the Bible, is inspired by God. God himself, out of love for us and earnestly desiring that we understand his plan and know who he is, expressed himself through his prophets and apostles with the exact words and message he intended. Second, the word of God is profitable in penetrating and transforming ways so that any person who listens and obeys will be equipped for every good work. All that you need, all that the world needs, every answer to every sorrow and ill can be found in God’s Word. In the shifting and unsteady waves of public discourse, we are like a tempest tossed skiff, but the Word of God is the anchor that holds in the solid soil beneath the water, providing us with a solid confidence that we will never be able to find in political causes or in any other source of authority. The third is a powerful mystery; God’s Word has power because, alive and active, the Spirit of Christ dwells within the Word and indwells us when we feast on His word. The Spirit is the power of God who fills us and makes us alive and capable as we trust and act. This is the power we need to overthrow the headlines and bring hope in troubled times.

This blog was written by Charles Fox