Friday, December 14, 2007

Middle School Musical

My sixth grade son plays the snare drum in the Greencastle Middle School band. Last night was the middle school's Christmas concert. The high school auditorium was packed with the family and friends of Greencastle's middle school kids, as those young people played and sang songs about Christmas. The song selection included the usual Christmas suspects, such as Go Tell it on the Mountain. As the choir belted out that Christmas hymn, my wife looked over at me and expressed surprise that this public school would allow their kids to sing:

Go, tell it on the mountain, Over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain,That Jesus Christ is born. While shepherds kept their watching Over silent flocks by night, Behold throughout the heavens There shone a holy light. The shepherds feared and trembled, When lo! above the earth, Rang out the angels chorus That hailed the Savior’s birth. Down in a lowly manger The humble Christ was born And God sent us salvation. That blessed Christmas morn. (empasis added)

My wife was surprised that such blatant phrases of salvation in Christ would be sung from the auditorium stage of a public high school.
I wasn't surprised. Why? Because Christmas carols are part of the tradition. It is simply going through the motions that make the holiday Christmas for so many people. It is interesting that Al Mohler blogged about this very thing today. You're encouraged to read his blog post "Merry Christmas, Dear Athiest".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Yet again shots were fired in downtown Indy, and yet again Jamaal Tinsley, the starting PG of the Indiana Pacers was involved. In fourteen months Tinsley has been at the center of three night club altercations. Shots were fired during two of the incidents. Today's IndyStar coverage of Sunday's shooting makes much of pro athletes being targeted.
Athletes say their wealth and fame make them an easy target. Their status can cause jealousy or perhaps initiate a confrontation that would enable a person to file a lawsuit and be awarded a large sum of money.
Alonzo Mourning, Elton Brand, and Jeff Foster (huh?!) are quoted in the article, and they all recount instances of harassment, simply for being professional athletes. Jermaine O'Neal and Reggie Miller are cited as athletes who travel with professional security guards.

I agree that pro athletes, especially high profile players (Tinsley qualifies as high-profile because we're talking about Indianapolis - only two pro franchises and a "small" big city), are targets. Elton Brand of the LA Clippers said:
You’re definitely a target. Anytime you’re in a bar, restaurant or club and someone wants to start trouble, you just have to back down and walk away from it because you have a lot more to lose. If you do something stupid, you’re in trouble. If they do something stupid, they’re famous.
All of that is true. So is this: anyone who is at a bar or club at 0300 (3am for you civilians) is asking for trouble. To some that may sound like a whacked out, religious, fundamentalist prude, etc., but it is accurate. There is much that one can do out on the town at 3am that is good.

According to what has been reported thus far, Tinsley and Pacer equipment manager Joe Qatato were victims. Victims of thugs, and victims of their own, especially in Tinsley's case, stupidity.

Monday, December 10, 2007

No Gordon...No Basset..No Problem!

My beloved Hoosiers dismantled the woeful Wildcats at Assmebly Hall on Saturday afternoon. Sans Gordon and Basset the Hoosiers easily handled the Kittens from Kentucky. Too bad Gordon missed his only chance at an IU vs. UK game.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Snowball Fight!!!

Romney's "Faith in America" Speech

Follow this link to read Governor Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech, delivered at the George H. W. Bush presidential library in College Station, Texas on Thursday, December 6th. I've also linked the coverage of the following news outlets:

Here are some opinions on Romney's speech:

The innocuous Romney speech did not move or sway my position on the former Governor in the least. I am often accused, or it is frequently assumed, that I favor Mike Huckabee because he is a Baptist, and that I do not support Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon.

Not true.

As I review the thin list of candidates for whom I could support, Mike Huckabee stands out above the rest. I will not support Rudy Giuliani; not now, not ever. I might be in favor of him as Attorney General, but not as President of the United States.

I do not support Mitt Romney because he is a political opportunist. To be elected governor of Massachusetts he had to be liberal on social issues; so he was. To earn the GOP Presidential nomination he has to be conservative on social issues; so he says he is. Whichever way the wind blows Romney hoists sail and heads in that direction.

My support for Huckabee has zero to do with his Baptist identity, and I do not withhold support for Romney because he is a Mormon. I wish this issue would die, but it will not, it cannot. We are doomed, it seems, to be forced to listen to and read journalists/pundits argue and wax eloquent on that which they are totally ignorant - theology.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christians & Politics

The issue of religion's relationship to politics is the du jour topic on all the political news shows, blogs, etc. because of Governor Mike Huckabee's ascendancy from second-tier candidate status to legitimate front-runner. Since Huckabee has leap-frogged Mitt Romney, the Mormon candidate, religion and politics has dominated the conversation.

Instead of discussing the differences between Mormons and Christians - Mormons are not Christians - I want to draw to your attention a well-written post on Christianity and politics by Nathan Busenitz of Pulpit Magazine. The post is subtitled "Bringing in the Kingdom one vote at a time?" and it is worth a read.

A casual perusal of this blog quickly reveals that I enjoy discussing politics and have strong political opinions. I do not think it sin for a Christian to hold political office, but I also do not believe that holding political office is the means by which God will bring righteousness to this or any nation.
In his post Busenitz asks the questions:
Is it really the church’s mission, or even her responsibility, to gain political dominance? Should we preoccupy ourselves with congressional hearings, presidential campaigns, and economic plans? Do we need to form committees and coalitions who will raise millions of dollars to protect the Ten Commandments and vigilantly stand against any advance by the “immoral minority”?
The answer should be obvious to all, and Busenitz is correct when he writes:

No...Matthew 28:18-20 gives us the mission, or commission, with which we should be primarily concerned. It is hardly political in nature.

American Christians...must remember that our allegiance is first to God and only second to our government. Our primary concern then should be in saving souls rather than gaining votes. Rather than being consumed with political debates, we should be consumed with our responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors. These are the efforts and activities that have eternal value. And while we preoccupy ourselves with the spiritual rather than the political, we can rest in knowing that He is sovereign over the governments and affairs of this world. (Emphasis added)

That's good stuff!

I like politics. I enjoy debating political issues. I enjoy exercising my American rights and privileges, but I fear that far too many Christians equate political activism with Biblical orthodoxy. Being a social, fiscal conservative Republican is not synonymous with being a Christian.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Golden Compass

Dr. R. Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary has written an excellent review of the soon to be released movie The Golden Compass. I encourage all the Oxgoad users, regular readers, casual users, and accidental visitors, to follow this link to Dr. Mohler's bog post and read his analysis in it's entirety.

The Golden Compass is a potential blockbuster movie with a stellar cast, special effects, and CGI (computer generated imagery) graphics that rival anything produced to date. Many of you are probably aware that this particular movie has raised the ire of folks within the 'Christian' community - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - because it is based on a novel that was written to discredit and disprove Christianity.

The Golden Compass
(it was published as Northern Lights in the UK) is actually the first installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy; a series of books written by the award winning British author and atheist Philip Pullman. Hanna Rosin of Atlantic Monthly interviewed Pullman, and Dr. Mohler repeatedly refers to that interview. I have linked to it here.

As one would expect, considering the author, The Golden Compass and the following two movies which may be produced, have an agenda. Mohler writes:
This is not just any fantasy trilogy or film project. Philip Pullman has an agenda about as subtle as an army tank...nothing less than to expose what he believes is the tyranny of the Christian faith and the Christian church. His hatred of the biblical storyline is clear. He is an atheist whose most important literary project is intended to offer a moral narrative that will reverse the biblical account of the fall and provide a liberating mythology for a new secular age.
I wouldn't recommend His Dark Materials as a Christmas gift for your children!

By all accounts, the movie version of the book has softened the tone of anti-Christianity that is palpable in the book. I believe that to be a negative rather than a positive. I'd much rather the movie be true to the book, not because I like the book's thesis, but because I prefer an overt enemy to a covert one.

How should Christians respond to this movie? Here again is Dr. Mohler:
Pullman has an agenda that is clear, and Christians need to inform themselves of what this agenda is and what it means. At the same time, nothing would serve his agenda better than to have Christians speaking recklessly or unintelligently about the film or the books. This is about the battle of ideas and worldviews. While Christians will not celebrate the release of this film, we should recognize the mixture of challenge and opportunity that comes with millions of persons watching this film and talking about the issues it raises. When the movie is mentioned in the workplace, in school, on the playground, or in the college campus, this is a great opportunity to show that Christians are not afraid of the battle of ideas. (italics added)
Good advice. The last thing needed is a shrill response from Christians, on this topic or any other. I would also encourage Christians to do a self-examination of their TV and movie viewing habits in general. Just because a movie does not depict Christianity as evil and that which must be overthrown, does not mean that the movie is positive. Most movies are sprinkled, some more heavily than others, with the same anti-Christian ideology as expressed in The Golden Compass; only packaged in a different wrapping. One thing I appreciate about Pullman is his clarity.

Christians should be so clear. Clearly discerning what they should and shouldn't put before their eyes or the eyes of their children. In all things Christians should honor Christ their Lord as holy, always being prepared to answer anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet answering with gentleness and respect.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

IU 84 Tennessee State 72

Eric Gordon is quite possibly the most talented freshmen at Indiana since Isiah Thomas. I did not say he was the next Thomas, but that he is the most talented frosh since Zeke. He is leading the team and the Big 10 in scoring, and I am thrilled that he is not in gross Illini orange.

- UPDATE - 12/4/07

My beloved Hoosiers remained perfect at Assembly Hall under the leadership of Coach Verizon by dispatching the titans of Tennessee State by the score of 84-72. (I have grown weary of the cupcakes on this team's schedule. Thus far IU has played two quality oppenents - Xavier and SIU - and they are 1-1 in those match-ups. This weekend's clash with their southern rival will be the last solid program faced by IU until the Big 10 schedule begins in '08.)

IU nation held its collevtive breath last evening when Eric Gordon had to leave the game because of a bruised tailbone. Sampson wisely held him from the remainder of the contest and he should be fit for the UK game. The positive to be taken from Gordon's absence was DJ's dominating presence. H had one of the best game's of his career; albeit against Tennessee State. Hopefully DJ will have a repeat performance on Saturday, and EJ will look like he has for most of this young season.

Since the IU - UK game will be played at home, I predict that IU will win 75 - 65.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Under Construction

I rarely agree with Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz, but today's column is right on target. "This IU team remains under construction" is an accurate description of the '07-'08 IU squad. This team is loaded with talent, but most of it is young, raw, and mostly under 6'8". The Hoosiers narrowly defeated a bad Georgia Tech team at home last night in the annual ACC beat down on the Big Ten (Otherwise know as the ACC/Big Ten challenge, but it's not much of a challenge for the ACC. They have won the Commissioner's Cup 8 of 8 times, and they already have the ninth sewn up. The Big Ten should challenge the MAC or the CAC - or the SEC - if they want to win some hardware.) Had this game been in Atlanta, the Hoosiers very well may have suffered their second humiliating defeat in a row.

Yes, I said their second humiliating defeat in a row because the Hoosiers were dismantled on Saturday evening by the plucky (that's lucky with a "p") Jesuits of Cincinnati. The Xavier Musketeers are loaded with upperclassmen, indicative of a mid-level conference unable to recruit top talent. They compensate for their dearth of talent by playing, smart, disciplined, and tough basketball. Last Saturday night the Jesuits of Xavier out-played, out-hustled, out-smarted, out-toughed, and out-coached my beloved Hoosiers. IU earned the 80-65 spanking they received.

IU is still a team under construction. They were an overrated #8, and they are still overrated at #15. They have a tough match-up this Saturday in Carbondale, IL against the Southern Illinois Salukis. The way IU is playing right now, they may well lose this road game. IU neutered the Salukis last year by ten points - 57-47, but that game was played at Assembly Hall.

Until this talented IU squad learns to play as a team, they will continue to struggle against teams they should annihilate. It is unfortunate, however, that some people - such as this man - enjoy an IU defeat. Some people are so envious of the IU program, that they root for IU to lose no matter who they play. That is just shameful!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is Huckabee a "False Conservative"?

UPDATED on Wednesday, November 28th. The update follows the original post.

On Monday, November 26th, journalist Robert Novak's article "Huckabee: the False Conservative" was published. The article painted Mike Huckabee according to the stereotype: as a socially conservative but fiscally liberal Republican. Some intelligent political observers, such as my good friend Philip, agreed with Novak's tired and uninformed criticism.

Does Robert Novak have it right? Does Fred Thompson? (He accused Huckabee of being a "pro-life liberal") Is Mike Huckabee a false conservative? In the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend!"

Susan Stilley of the blog Politics and Christianity has written an excellent response to Novak. Please do not swallow the stereotypes. (If you think Huckabee is a closet liberal you probably also think that Thompson is lazy. Well, that may be a bad analogy. Fred does appear a tad lethargic at times!)

Read Stilley's post Robert Novak: the False Journalist. To whet your appetite I will include this snippet from the post:
Novak claims that serious Republicans know that Huckabee "is a high tax protectionist advocate of big government". I consider myself a serious Republican and know no such thing. As a former resident of Arkansas during Governor Huckabee's tenure I know that he pushed through the Arkansas Legislature the first major, broad-based tax cuts in state history - a $90 million tax relief package for Arkansas families. He also doubled the standard deduction to $2,000 for single taxpayers and $4,000 for those who are married. Some taxes he eliminated entirely: the marriage penalty, bracket creep caused by inflation, income tax on poor families, and capital gains on home sales. To encourage investment, he cut capital gains for both individuals and businesses. To help people better themselves, he provided tax credits for employee training and education. In total, he cut taxes and fees nearly 100 times during his ten-and-a-half years as Governor, saving the people of Arkansas almost $380 million.
UPDATE: read Dick Morris' article - "Huckabee is a Fiscal Conservative". Morris includes actual data to back up his assertion that Huckabe is indeed fiscally conservatice.

Most Pathetic "Sports" Story of the Year

We've all heard the joke about going to watch a fight and then a hockey game broke out. Hah, hah, hah. Very funny. While fighting is most definitely one small part of hockey, a story from this morning's Edmonton Sun is absolutely pathetic.

GUELPH, Ont. -- Six hockey players and two coaches were suspended following a brawl between two teams of eight-year-olds in Guelph last week that has stunned police. Three players each from the Duffield Devils and Niagara Falls Thunder novice triple-A teams, and their respective coaches, were ejected from the Guelph Power Play Tournament on Friday after a brawl during a game.

"These are eight-year-olds," said Staff Sgt. Neal Young of Guelph Police.

"How ridiculous is that?"

It is incredulous Staff Sergeant, that is what it is. Sure, hockey is a rough sport, but this did not happen because hockey is violent. This happened because the adults involved are idiots.
Police were called to the arena shortly before 6 p.m. Friday. A small fight had broken out between players on the ice and both coaches sent more players from the bench to join in the fracas, Young said. A member of the Niagara Falls coaching staff approached the Duffield bench and allegedly spit in the face of a Duffield coach.
I cannot imagine a coach sending allowing 8 year olds to fight, let alone sending reinforcements to join the fracas. The fact that one coach spit on another is par for the course with this outfit.
This is a disgrace. The parents should demand that the imbeciles in charge should immediately be removed from coaching and never allowed to return. Obviously these men are positive role models. They should not be allowed to influence children.
It is not foolish when a child behaves like a child. It is foolish, and often tragic, when grown men behave like a child.

Peace Talks in Annapolis

I believe in dialougue. I genuinely do. But sane people must be engaged in the dialogue for anything positive to result. I do not believe that is the situation in the case of the Annapolis talks. If you haven't followed the story, I've linked to some articles that you might find useful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are You an Unconverted Believer?

Life is made up of decisions. I’ve heard and read a story that has several variations but the sum of the parts goes like this:

A reporter received a tour of an orange packing warehouse while doing research on the Florida orange industry. The reporter watched one particular worker who had the mind numbing job of sorting oranges as they tumbled down a conveyor belt. There was a hole for small oranges, large oranges, and bruised oranges. After watching this tedious work for what seemed like an hour but was only about fifteen minutes, the reporter finally asked the man, “Doesn’t this job get to you? How can you stand putting those oranges into holes all day long?”

The worker replied, “Hey, you don’t know the half of it! From the time I clock in until the time I clock out, it’s decisions, decisions, decisions!”

We make decisions on a daily basis, and we make a lot of them. Just today you have decided what to wear, what to eat, what time to leave your house for work, what route to take, and whether or not to speed or obey the traffic laws. You’ve decided to read this blog, and you may be deciding to click away; which just proves my point. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Obviously, some of the decisions that we make are much more significant that others. We make some decisions daily, others we make rarely, and some we make only once. The fact of the matter is this: we make decisions, and then those decisions turn around and make us.

Based on the authority of God’s Word I am able to state this: there is one decision that you must make, and that one decision not only will impact this present life as well as the next. I am talking about the decision that you will make concerning Jesus Christ and the salvation that He purchased for you when He died on the cross for your sins and rose from the grave. This is a fact on which you must be clear: the gospel calls for a decision. The gospel calls for men and women to cease wobbling and wavering and to make a decision for Jesus Christ, unreservedly giving their lives to Him.

Romans 10:9-10 says,
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Each person has a personal need to be saved, each of us are, or have been, lost and dead in our sins and in absolute need of salvation. Before you can embrace Christ as your Savior, you must see Him as the very Savior that you need. The reason some have not, or will not, embrace Christ is because they do not think they need Him! They are prepared and willing to admit and recognize that problems exist globally and nationally, but they are unwilling to admit their problem personally.

No one will come to Christ until one recognizes the absolute necessity of salvation. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32). The righteous arrogantly and ignorantly believe that they do not need a Savior, but the sinner knows all to well that he is damned without One!

Unless you are perfect; unless you are absolutely righteous, absolutely perfect, absolutely kind, absolutely honest, absolutely without sin, unless you fit that criteria you need a Savior. God’s Word says that all of us are sinners, none of us are righteous, we have all fallen short, and thus there exists for all of us an absolute necessity of salvation. The bad news is that we are all sinners incapable of saving ourselves. The good news is that Jesus paid our penalty, and He offers to us all the gift of eternal life; the gift of salvation.

I understand that most, if not all of those who read this blog are basically good people. I’m confident that murderers, thieves, or child molesters do not frequent this blog. Nevertheless, we are all sinners, spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins, and in desperate need of salvation.

Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." I write this with a sensitive pleading heart. Jesus Christ said twice as much about Hell as He did about Heaven, and based on the authority of God’s Word you may be assured that if you die in your sins you will go to Hell. Hell is factual, Hell is final, Hell is fearful, and Hell is fair, because God will merely confirm the choice of your heart on that day that you stand before Him.

The gospel is not a matter of opinion to be debated like politics or sports. It is not enough to simply be emotionally stirred or to feel guilty. The gospel is something that requires a decision. You must accept it and believe. Do you believe? Are you a believer, or are you a waverer, a wobbler? Are you a Christian; are you an unconverted believer?

Unconverted believers are those individuals who are acquainted with the gospel. They have heard it, perhaps many times. They could probably even explain the gospel, quote it; they may find it interesting, emotionally stirring, and at times troubling. Unconverted believers usually make the mistake of thinking that the gospel somehow offers everything without demanding anything. It is a mistake to think that God will save you without changing you; that God will provide everything you desire without demanding anything from you. It is a lie to think that Christianity makes no demands and calls for no decisions! I know it’s a lie because when you take your Bible and examine what the Scriptures teach you find that salvation does make demands and it does call you to a decision.

Salvation is an absolute necessity, and the need is incredibly urgent. If God has shown you your need, and given you a desire to turn to Jesus Christ, then turn your life over to Him now, at this very moment. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2); make that decision right now. Why would you wait?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend Sports Wrap

The weekend just past was a good one for Hoosier sports fans (at least IU and Colts fans are happy). The weekend began with a thrilling victory for my beloved Hoosiers over the accursed Boilermakers. The IU footballers showed true grit in holding on to their sizable lead against the Boilermakers who decided to make a game if it in the fourth quarter. The two premier players for IU - QB Kellen Lewis and WR James Hardy - were both brilliant and played up to their potential, but the team needed Austin Starr to make a 49-yard field goal with 30 seconds left to hang on for a 27-24 victory. (Hopefully, Lewis and Hardy will return to Bloomington next season. I'm sure that Lewis will be back. I'm not so certain about Hardy.) This win cemented a winning record for the football squad, returned the Old Oaken Bucket to Bloomington, and placed the team in a likely position of earning a bowl bid; the team's first in about fourteen years!

The Colts rounded out this fine sports weekend with an all too close victory over the below average Kansas City Chiefs. Without Dwight Freeney the pass push was nonexistent. Teams will be able to double Mathis and prevent the Colts from pressuring the QB. Without pressure the Cover Two will be picked apart. The offense was anemic, and Vinateri is suddenly worse than the Canadian. He missed two field goals before hitting the 24 yard game winner.
The Colts should beat the hapless Falcons on Thanksgiving, but the remainder of their schedule is difficult. The team may struggle to get ten wins, and I fear that a postseason victory is highly improbable.
Then again, I thought a second half comeback against the Patriots in last season's AFC Championship game was highly improbable!

This was a good weekend for Hoosier sports fans.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Rounding Third and Heading for Home

Cincinnati icon Joe Nuxhall died late Thursday evening at the age of 79. Nuxhall had been admitted to the hospital Monday after experiencing difficulty breathing while visiting his oncologist. The hero of Hamilton had been undergoing chemotherapy since October to treat lymphoma, and had been battling many health problems over the last few years.

At 34 I was never able to see the Ol' Lefthander pitch for the Reds, but I religiously listened to his broadcasts of the Cincinnati Reds' games; along with his longtime radio partner and good friend Marty Brennaman. I enjoyed following the Reds. Marty and Joe were a huge part of that. The Reds broadcasts have not been the same without Joe, and not because he was a slick broadcaster. He wasn't. It was just good to have him in the booth. His passion for the Reds was contagious. His interaction with Marty often hilarious.

Below are some links about Joe Nuxhall.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Writers are Still on Strike!!

Big deal!

Cal Thomas, one of my favorite commentators, has written an excellent column about the Writer's Guild of America strike. You may read that article here, and I hope you will. I do want to comment on a few of Thomas' observations. Thomas writes:
Female “scientists” on the crime shows display enough cleavage that if the commercial were for Victoria’s Secret, viewers wouldn’t notice the transition. Such fantasies don’t resemble any female scientist I know, nor would a professional woman dress like a hooker for the office.
I normally watch sports, news, and PBS shows exclusively, although I do enjoy the occasional crime drama. (I admit to being a Law & Order junkie, and I do watch Lost.) Last night I watched about 15 minutes of the CBS show Criminal Minds and all of CSI: NY. As I watched I noticed that every female FBI agent and/or scientist, with very few exceptions, was thin, attractive, and wearing a blouse that had a revealing neckline. I recalled a conversation that I had with my parents the week before. Dad was poking fun at one of my Mom's favorite shows - Murder She Wrote. Dad said the show was so unrealistic because everywhere Angela Langsbury visited, someone died!

That conversation came to mind because the newer TV shows, with their "realistic" images, technology, etc. are even more unrealistic that the Angela Langsbury classic. How many police departments - local, state, or federal - are entirely populated by beautiful people? The only overweight and ugly character on Criminal Minds was shot in last night's episode. They may have killed her off!

Here again is Cal Thomas:
Rather than watch re-runs (new or old), now would be a good time to consider turning off the TV and returning to those thrilling days of yesteryear, before the Lone Ranger, even before TV. That’s when families scheduled dinner together and talked about the day’s events and developments in the world. Useful information was passed from adult to child and back. Before TV, more people read books. They also read newspapers and there were more of them to read. Readers talked with others about what they had read. Good stories by good writers transported readers to other worlds, giving them vicarious experiences that made them feel good, offering hope and laughter.
He makes an excellent point. I'm sure most of the Oxgoad readers are unaffected by the WGA strike; even unaware of it. Still, it is good to be reminded to not only take time out for one's family, but to make time. Eat at least one meal a day together, at the dining room table not on TV trays in front of the TV. Purposefully communicate, not just in do's and dont's, but about your day and theirs, about what is going on in the world, and, most importantly, about God's Word and how it relates to them and their environment.

The WGA is on strike, and no end is in sight.

Big deal!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

She Knows the Answers (and the Questions)

Senator Clinton's embarrassing staged question act has brought much criticism down on the head of the Democratic front runner, and rightfully so. If you are unfamiliar with the story, follow this link to read about it and watch an interview with the student who was given the question. The strategy was a clumsy attempt to promote the Senator's viewpoint, and it reveals a level of dishonesty within her campaign.

As I read about this story, however, I could not help but think of two moments in my past in which I had similar experiences. First, while serving as the youth pastor at the Dearborn Baptist Church in Aurora, IN I led in an event called "Grill the Pastor Night". The Pastor and his wife attended our monthly youth fellowship for the express purpose of allowing the students to see and interact with their pastor apart from church building, the suit and tie, and the pulpit. A major part of the evening was a Q & A with the pastor.

Here is where the Clinton story connection comes in to play. I had scripted several questions for students to ask. These were not the only questions the students were allowed to put to the pastor, but I wanted to grease the tracks; as well as set a type of question precedent. With only one or two exceptions, the scripted questions were the only ones asked.
Still, I was happy with the evening, and chalked the lack of inquisitiveness up to the fact that this was a different type of event for our kids.

I do not think that this incident is a fair comparison to the Clinton debacle. Not so
, however, with my next example.

Before the start of a special evangelistic service I was approached by a fellow church member and given these instructions (this was pre-pastoral days): "Go forward as soon as the invitation begins. That will prime the pump. Others will be motivated to go forward as long as they aren't the first ones to step out."

I submissively nodded. As soon as the invitation began my feet hit the aisle, and I headed straight for the altar.

I now regret that decision. Why? Because the Holy Spirit does not rely on manipulation. The dear church member who told me to go forward was zealous for people to talk about spiritual matters with the pastor or someone else at the church's front. His desire was well meaning, but the execution of his desire was misplaced. My participation in the invitation was staged, much like the young Grinnel College student's question was staged.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This is Nice!

In Eric Gordon's first official game with my beloved Indiana Hoosiers the frosh phenom from Indy poured in 33 points, and the Hoosiers dominated their over-matched opponent 99-79. Yes, I am aware that IU was hosting the Chattanooga Choo-Choos from the Southern Conference and not a team from the suddenly unstoppable Atlantic Sun conference.

For those of you unfamiliar with NCAAB, the Atlantic Sun is a "mid-major" conference comprised of small, ususally private schools which are supposed to be shelled by the public universities from the "major" conferences such as the Pac-10, Big East, and SEC. Evidently, the Atlantic Sun didn't receive the early season memo. As of today, three Atlantic Sun teams have defeated teams from the aforementioned big-time conferences.

All of these games were road wins for the upset kings from the Atlantic Sun.

Yes, Chattanooga is a team the Hoosiers are supposed to beat, especially since they played at Assembly Hall, but UK, UC, and USC were supposed to beat G-W, Belmont, and Mercer respectively; only they didn't. Yes, Eric Gordon was supposed to play brilliantly, and he did. OJ Mayo also played like everyone expected. He put up big numbers, leading his team in points (32), assists (4), and steals (2); too bad his team lost. Gordon had a sweet box line as well: 9-of-15 from the field (much better than Mayo's 12-of27), 7-of-11 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists; plus his team won going away.

Even though IU trailed at the half, and even though DJ White had his customary brush with an injury, this team looked explosive and entertaining. This year there will be no long scoring droughts. They will not put up an anemic 49 during this campaign, as they did against UCLA in last year's NCAA Tournament. IU is a young team, so there will be significant growing pains, but they are a talented team. Newcomers JaMarcus Ellis, Jordan Crawford, and DeAndre Thomas all contributed to last night's dominating effort. (By the way, DeAndre Thomas is one large man. It's about time that IU had a big bruiser down low.)

Next up for IU are the Longwood Lancers. This may be a tough one.

Not really!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Christ and the Pharisees

Mark has chronicled in the first seventeen verses of his second chapter Christ forgiving the sins of the paralytic (and His friends) as well as His dismissal of the publican's sins. The individuals in both cases were aware of their sinful conditions, aware of their need of a Savior, and all recognized that Jesus was the Savior. Christ's dealing with the paralytic and publican did not happen in secret. While Christ interacted with both the paralytic and the publican, there was a group of men in the background who were less enthused with Jesus as were the penitent. These men were the scribes and Pharisees; the pious, religious, moral majority of their day. These men were unwilling to recognize and admit their own sinfulness, and unwilling to recognize that Jesus was the One to whom they should repent. Therefore they murmured more than marveled at the words and works of Jesus.

Their disdain bubbled to the surface while at Levi the tax collector's feast. First they questioned the disciples: "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?" Christ answered for His disciples, and the answer was the quintessential statement of Christianity: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." That is the core message of the Gospel. The Gospel is good news, but good news is only really good when you understand the bad news. The bad news is that all men are sinners incapable of saving themselves. The bad news is that sin pays wages, and the wages of sin is death.

The good news is that Jesus came to save sinners! That is terrific news because only Jesus can save sinners. He is the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through Jesus. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and Water of life. He said that whoever came to Him would not hunger, and whoever believed in Him would never thirst. Only a sinner will come to eat the Bread of life and drink the Water of life. The self-righteous will not, because the self-righteous refuse to recognize that their bread and water does not and cannot satisfy the soul. The self-righteous person trusts not in the Savior but in self…in religion…in tradition…in morally upright behavior…in anything/anyone but the Savior.

In verses 18-22 of Mark's second chapter the scribes and Pharisees are no longer content to murmur about Jesus within themselves or to His disciples. They take their criticisms straight to the source. We are told…

And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?" And Jesus said unto them, "Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles."

That is an interesting passage which can create many questions in one's mind. Let me put your mind to ease. The focus of this passage is not sewing or social drinking. The focus of this passage, which the two metaphors ingeniously illustrate, is the gospel's exclusivity. The gospel of Jesus Christ (Paul also refers to it as "the gospel of the grace of God"Acts 20:24) is absolutely unique; it is incompatible with any and all other belief systems. The Gospel may not be mixed with any "ism", "osophy", "ology", or religion.

The Gospel stands alone. The gospel is entirely exclusive; it does not mingle, mix, or accommodate other religions In fact, the Gospel replaces all other religions. This must be especially understood in our time; an era that has denied absolute truth and redefined tolerance of religion to mean "all religions are equally true". The prevailing thought of our day is that we're all headed for the same destination; we're just going to arrive from different starting points.

In Mark 2:18-22 Jesus said otherwise.

The Pharisees were unhappy with Jesus because He said to the paralytic "Thy sins be forgiven thee." They rightly believed that only God can forgive sins, but they wrongly decided that He was a blasphemer for claiming such authority. Jesus proved that He had the authority to forgive the man's sins by demonstrating the power to heal the man's body. His reputation was further damaged with the Pharisees when He called a publican to be His follower, and then feasted with the publican and all his immoral friends.

In a late night conversation with Jesus, the respected Pharisee Nicodemus said, "We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Yet Christ ignored the rituals, ceremonies, and traditions of the Pharisees. He associated with tax gatherers and prostitutes. He never observed their religious traditions. This confused and annoyed the Pharisees. So it was that either during the feast at Levi's house, or directing following it, Jesus was approached by these people, along with the disciples of John, and asked a question.

Why were some of John's disciples connected with the Pharisees? When you read "disciples of John" you probably think of the good guys, but in this case they seem to be siding with the Pharisees. John the Baptist had faithfully declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John understood that his ministry was one of preparation, and once Jesus' ministry began his would fade away. "He must increase, but I must decrease" he said in John 3:30. Some of John's disciples became Jesus' disciples (John 1:40); which was the point of John's ministry in the first place. There remained, however, men who called themselves John's disciples, but who were not followers of Christ. These men were not saved. Years later the apostle Paul encountered twelve men in Ephesus who considered themselves disciples of John but who were unsaved (Acts 19:1-7). Don't be confused by the fact that the Pharisees and the disciples of John are linked together in this passage.

The Examination - v. 18

Jesus was asked: "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" He is really being asked, "How come your religion is so different than ours?" The Pharisaic traditions of Jesus' time held to three major expressions: fasting, almsgiving, and prayers. For each expression there was a certain routine and schedule to follow, and the major goal for this routine was not to draw closer to God but to appear righteous before men. These external, lifeless rituals were the substance of their religion, and they wanted to know why Jesus' approach was so different?"

I refer to these practices as Pharisaic traditions because the OT commanded that the people fast only once a year, and that was on the Day of Atonement; a day of national repentance and forgiveness (Leviticus 16:29-31). No other fasts were required. Of course, there were occasions in the Old Testament when the Jews fasted because of some serious situation which they faced. When Haman's genocidal plot was made known the Jews fasted (Esther 4:15-17). When David's illegitimate son was stricken by God as punishment for David's adultery and murder; David fasted (2 Samuel 12:15-16). There were fasts in the Old Testament other than the required Day of Atonement fast, but they were always associated with grief and mourning over some serious issue. They were not required. They were voluntarily observed.

Judaism had decided that fasting looked spiritual, and since they wanted to be really spiritual they could not only fast once a year. Two days a week were set apart for fasts: Monday and Thursday, and these fasts were observed just so people could observe them being "spiritual". You see, they don't see religion as a matter of humility, sinfulness, repentance, and followership. They saw religion as a matter of ceremony and ritual.

"How come your practice is so different from ours? Why don't you do what we do?" The answer is because Jesus was no hypocrite. The Pharisees were, and that is not just my opinion; that is the assessment of Christ.

  • Matthew 6:2 – "Therefore when thou doest [thine] alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."
  • Matthew 6:5 – "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites [are]: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."
  • Matthew 6:16 – "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."

These men observed heartless habits instead of robust routines. They gave alms, recited prayers, and regularly fasted; all done with an ostentatious flair so as to be seen by all. Paul called it a "desire to make a fair show in the flesh" (Galatians 6:12). Jesus said that such men, then and now have their reward. It is not a reward that one takes into eternity.

The Explanation - vv. 19-20

Jesus could not have been clearer about why He had come. He came to convert sinners, not to complement the self-righteous – "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." He now explains that He came to bring gladness not sadness. The extra-Biblical traditions of the Pharisees had turned the OT law into a dour faced, burdensome, oppressive religion that weighed down the people with rules and regulations that were impossible and unnecessary to obey. Jesus flatly condemned that legalistic expression of faith in Matthew 23:4-5a, 25-28:

For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men's shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men…Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
These blind guides of Israel had made religious life comparable to a funeral dirge. Christ said that life is to be likened to a wedding! A wedding is a time of joy and celebration. R. Kent Hughes' writes in his commentary (in this section Hughes quotes from William Barclay's The Gospel of Mark):

After an ancient Jewish wedding, the couple did not honeymoon, but stayed at home for a week of open house in which there was continual feasting and celebration. For the hardworking, this was traditionally considered to be the happiest week in their lives. The bride and groom were treated like a king and queen that week (sometimes they even wore crowns). They were attended by chosen friends known as 'guests of the bridegroom', which means literally, 'children of the bride chamber.' Their guests were exempted from all fasting through a rabbinical ruling which said, 'All in attendance on the bridegroom are relieved of all religious observances which would lessen their joy.'

This is simply obvious. You don't fast at a wedding, because a wedding is a celebration. I suppose a father could say, "Well I am so upset that my daughter is marrying this guy that there will be no cake, there will be no refreshments, there will be no punch and there will be no food, we will be fasting." I suppose that could happen. But that's not normally the case. Jesus said, "As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." To put it another way, Christ said to them, "Your ritual is out of sync with reality." Disregarding what God was doing in their midst, these guys continued to crank out their heartless habits, and had disconnected reality from the ritual.

Their system was only external, disconnected from reality. If you go through any religious exercise apart from an honest, heart attitude; it is ritual only and nothing more. If fast just to fast, if you pray just to pray, if you go to church just to go to church, if you read the Bible just to read the Bible, if you sing a song just to sing a song, then you've missed it.

…to be continued

Thursday, November 8, 2007

It's All Tubby's Fault!!

The University of Kentucky Wildcats were unceremoniously booted from the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic by the formidable and historic basketball powerhouse Gardner-Webb.

No Gardner-Webb is not the name of a player; it's the name of a small North Carolina college that until 1969 was a junior college. The school moved to D-1 before the 2000-2001 season. The school, along with Central Arkansas, was scheduled by the mighty, mighty Wildcats as early season fodder for the home crowd, before the mighty, mighty Wildcats trekked north to play the big boys at Madison Square Garden. The big boys being UCONN, Oklahoma, and Memphis. All the aforementioned universities have also scheduled cupcakes at their home floors before moving on to New York for the semi-finals and final of the Coaches vs. Cancer event.

Some of those schools may be feeling a little pressure right about now.

Speaking of pressure, I wonder how first year coach Billy Gillispie is feeling right about now? After all, Gardner-Webb of Boiling Spring, NC is not supposed to waltz into the house that Rupp built and dismantle the mighty, mighty Wildcats 84-68. That is a 16-point thumping, at home, by the hand of Gardner-Webb; a school which just started playing D-1 basketball seven seasons ago.

I'm sure that the Kentucky faithful know who to blame. Billy the Kid just got started, these aren't his players. Yeah...that's it! The real blame lies with Tubby Smith. He screwed it all up!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Going Down with the Ship!

The straight talk express!

Senator McCain came close to winning the GOP nominatin seven years ago, and I believe he also would have beaten Al Gore; probably with a wider margin than Bush enjoyed. (That would not have been bard since Bush barely won in the first place.)

The two issues that are sinking McCain’s campaign are immigration and the war in Iraq. I disagree with him on immigration, but I appreciate his leadership concerning the War on Terror. McCain is plain spoken, and that is a trait that I appreciate. I just don’t think there is anything McCain can do to salvage his bid for the GOP nomination.

I still haven’t decided on a candidate. That is mainly due to the dearth of solid options.

Political Upset in Indy

The Mayoral race in Indiana ended with a winner that no one expected. Mayor-elect Greg Ballard (R) defeated two-time incumbent Bart Peterson (D) in what some have described as the "biggest upset in Indiana political history". Being new to the Central Indiana scene I am unfamiliar with Bart Peterson, and know absolutely nothing about Greg Ballard. Being raised in the Southeastern corner of the state I am more in tune with Cincinnati political figures than Indianapolis leaders. I do know that Peterson had enjoyed, for the most part, bipartisan support during his two terms. Peterson had raised millions of dollars (compared to Ballard's meager $300,000), and he was supported by most political insiders and the business community.

Guess that isn't worth what it used to be.

To me the interesting aspect of this particular political race was the fact that Peterson's campaign tried to label Ballard as an unproven leader. Greg Ballard is a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel. Unproven leader? That's ludicrous!

What I like the most about Ballard's win is that he only raised $300,000. That means that grass roots politics still works in this country. It also means that Ballard doesn't owe any favors to big donors.

For the outgoing mayor I'll say this; he was sertainly gracious in his concession speech. I expect that from a Midwesterner in general and a Hoosier leader in specific. He said to his supporters:
It’s time to rally around the new mayor, and to give as much to this city as you always have. Because at the end of the day, it isn’t about one individual or one administration. It’s about the great city of Indianapolis...tomorrow, the sun will rise, and we’ll still be living in the greatest city in America.
On that final note I say: Congratulations mayor-elect Ballard and "HUAH!"

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's Good to Be Back

My beloved Indiana Hoosiers are, for the first time in a long time, in the top echelon of the preseason polls. I know that preseason polls in college athletics don't always mean much. This college football season provides ample proof of that. Still, it's nice to be listed as a top tier team at the season's outset. The Hoosier have been on the outside looking in for over a decade. It feels good to be back near the top.

The reason for the preseason accolades is the talent. This year's squad is perhaps the most talented team since the Calbert Cheaney days. Senior DJ White and freshman Eric Gordon are the headline names to a cast of characters that can simply hoop it up. Armon Bassett, AJ Ratliff, DeAndre Thomas, JaMarcus Ellis, and Jordan Crawford will complement and augment White and Gordon nicely. The only downside to this season is the dark cloud of rules violations which second year coach Kelvin Sampson has created. The university has imposed sanctions on the program already, but the NCAA will hand own a punishment as well. I hope that does not include a ban onpost season play!

As for being ranked near the top, here is the list of publications that predict a strong Indiana squad in the '07-'08 season:

Missed it By That Much

The game was everything is was hyped to be. The two best teams in the NFL traded punches Sunday afternoon, and it was the New England Patriots who landed the final blow. Of the games that I have watched, this was the best and most entertaining by far, and I only saw the first half.

The Colts did everything they needed to do to win this game, and they still lost. They missed two opportunities on offence early in the first quarter. Adam Vinateri missed a 50 yard field goal, and Alex Gonzalez dropped a sure TD pass. Vinateri was brought here to make those kicks against that team. Gonzalez, filling in for an injured Marvin Harrison, should have made that catch.

Still, the Colts lead by ten with nine minutes remaining in the game. Brady had been sacked three times and had thrown two interceptions. Maroney had been held in check, and Moss, Welker, and Stallworth had not burned the secondary.

Until, that is, the 8:58 mark of the fourth quarter. Moss got behind the 25 yard deep safeties and hauled in a 55 yard pass that set up the first of two unanswered TDs. In only four - five minutes Brady had engineered two TD drives against a defense that had checked him and his receivers all day. That is what the great ones do.

The Patriot defense did their part as well. Having been humbled by the Colts until the fourth quarter, the defense flushed Manning out of the pocket, knocking the ball from his hand and into the hands of Roosevelt Colvin.

One first down and a few kneel downs later and the Brady led Patriots had established themselves as the undisputed Alpha dog of pack NFL.

Will these teams meet again in the playoffs? Who knows? There is still half a season to play, and I hope the Colts' only concern and focus is on the Chargers. Next week's game in San Diego will not be easy; especially following yesterday's 35-17 beat down by the Vikings.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Friend of Sinners

Mark has put pen to paper to tell us "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Gospel, of course, means good news, and the best news in the entire world and for all of time is that Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless, Son of God is also the Friend of sinners. (This is one sinner who will forever glory in that blessed fact!)

In the first 57 verses of his account, Mark has demonstrated that Christ's primary focus is to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom and the gospel of repentance and belief. In 1:15 Christ entered Galilee saying as much. He then called His first four disciples, promising that they too would become "fishers of men." In Capernaum He attended synagogue and proclaimed the gospel, and that was followed by an all day and night healing session emanating from Peter's house. In the following days Christ lead His disciples on a preaching tour of Galilee. He said, "Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth."

When He returned from the preaching excursion He had an evangelistic conversation with several of the scribes, again from Peter's house. People from all over crowded into and around the house just to catch a glimpse of the amazing Jesus.

While publicly and privately proclaiming the gospel, Jesus was not indifferent to the physical suffering of those around Him. His primary concern was their spiritual health, but He did not ignore their physical needs. Mark recorded His many healings on that first remarkable day in Capernaum. He also recorded Christ's healing touch of the leper, and his healing words to the paralytic. Thus far Mark has detailed four particular healings:
  1. Exorcising the Unclean spirit at the Capernaum synagogue.
  2. Healing Peter's mother-in-law of her debilitating fever.
  3. Cleansing the leper.
  4. Healing the paralytic.
None were surprised that Jesus displayed mercy to the above individuals. To be sure, all were amazed that He was able to perform those miracles, and the Pharisees were offended at His message. None, however, were shocked that Jesus showed mercy to a possessed man, His follower's mother-in-law, a leper, and a paralytic. The shock factor was centered on His ability to heal and forgive sins, not onto those whom that ability was used. In Mark 2:13-17 that would change.
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the [son] of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard [it], he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Emphasis added)

"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." That is the definitive statement of Christianity. Those eleven words summarize and clarify what Jesus' ministry was and what the church's ministry is to be. Literally, that sentence is Christianity in a nutshell. It describes the focus of Christ's earthly ministry and the purpose of His church until Christ's glorious Return. If you have ever wondered why Jesus was born of a virgin, why He lived a perfect, sinless life, why He died a horrible death on the cross, why He rose the third day from the tomb, and why He ascended to the Father's right hand, making intercession for the saints; this is the reason: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance". That is the message of Christianity; the essence of the gospel.

Jesus Christ is the Friend of sinners, and that was never more apparent as when He called Levi the tax collector to follow Him.

Jesus: Friend of Sinners

According to the US Budget for FY08 tax receipts for 2006 were $2.4 trillion. That's a one followed by twelve zeros. That's a lot of money. It's hard to imagine how our government is bale to spend that money (and more), but think for a moment about collecting all that cash.

It's a depressing thought. I know. Who likes to pay taxes? No one! Still, you have to be a little impressed at our government's ability to collect $2.4 trillion. They are quite good at separating us from our money.

Paying taxes is not something that we enjoy. That is true of all Americans, and it is true of all people in every country around the globe. This has always been the case, and it always will be. It was certainly true of the Jews of 1st century Palestine. They hated paying taxes, probably even more than the Hoosiers of 21st century Indiana.

According to Alfred Edersheim's Sketches of Jewish Social Life, the Roman Empire collected taxes from their conquered territories by selling tax franchises to wealthy individuals, or groups of individuals (joint - stock companies) and these folks (publicans) would collect the required taxes from the people. Rome required a certain amount from each district. Anything the publican could collect above that designated amount was his to keep. Obviously, this type of system created the potential for gross oppression and abuse, and the Romans would normally support the publicans in order to guarantee faithful and complete payments to the royal treasury.

The Hebrew word for publican was Gabbai; which is kind of funny because that is what you said to your money when you ran into one of these guys! These tax collectors were reviled by the Jews because they served Rome. They were collaborators with a tyrannical, Gentile empire. They were traitors to the cause of Israel. They enriched themselves at the expense of their countrymen. To 1st century Jews, and maybe even to Jews today, nothing was as scandalous as being anti-nationalistic. Literally selling out to a Gentile empire was unforgivable. Edersheim wrote that:

[Publicans were] declared incapable of bearing testimony in a Jewish court of law, [Jews were] forbidden to receive their charitable gifts, or even to change money out of their treasury… [Publicans were] ranked with harlots… heathens…highwaymen and murderers, and [were] excommunicated. It was held lawful to make false returns, to speak untruth, or almost to use any means to avoid paying taxes.

These men were the dregs of society. These were the men with whom no decent person would associate; especially not a respected, pious, religious leader. Yet Jesus walked straight to Levi, while he sat at his tax collecting table, and said to him "Follow me".

That is exactly what Levi did. Right there in verse 14 the conversion of Levi the tax collector is recorded. The only thing missing is the details, but those are unnecessary. We know that Jesus said "Follow me" and that Levi rose and followed Him. Obviously, this was not the first time that Levi had heard of Jesus. Jesus had ministered all over that area. He was based out of Capernaum, where Levi operated his tax franchise. It was not possible to live in that area and not know who Jesus was; to not hear what He taught; to not witness what He accomplished. Nothing was done in secret. There were no closed doors requiring secret hand shakes and knowledge of the passwords in order to see and hear what was happening. Everything was out in the open. They knew who He was. They knew what He taught. They knew all about the miraculous signs and wonders. Their hearts were prepared, and Matthew was a man under conviction.

This was no coincidental meeting along the roadside. There are no coincidences with Jesus; only providential appointments. Matthew was a man who believed he was unredeemable. He believed that because the system told him that he would not and could not see the kingdom of God. The religious system had declared that he was the worst of sinners.

Jesus is not part of the religious establishment! Praise God! Jesus is the Friend of sinners, and He walked right up to that notorious sinner. This was a revolutionary move on the part of Jesus; one that would damage His reputation, not only with the Pharisees but with any self-respecting Jew. One can only imagine the furtive glances that Simon, Andrew, James, and John stole as the One whom they had forsaken all to follow, not only approached a publican, but called him to join their merry little band. I wonder what amazed them more; that Jesus called Levi to follow Him or that Levi followed?

This is the evidence of Levi's conversion. He recognized his sin, and I believe that's why he arose and followed. The scribes, with who Jesus had been dialoguing in Peter's house, refused to recognize their sin. They refused to believe, and therefore they would not follow Jesus. Instead, they whispered within themselves, "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Face to face with Christ the Savior, witnesses of His authoritative teaching and miracles, these men rejected Christ because they refused to believe that they were sinners.

Not so with Levi. He, better than anyone, knew that he was a sinner, and now he was a sinner saved by grace. Listen to the words of Jesus as He spoke to the Pharisees in John 10:24-28:

Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand.

The Jews were not "made to doubt". They refused to recognize and repent of their sin. Of course, they easily recognized the sin of others. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector." That is how they prayed according to Luke 18:11.

Jesus knew Levi's heart. He knew not only Levi's sinfulness, but He knew Levi's willingness to repent of his sins and seek God's forgiveness. Just as Jesus forgave the paralytic's sins, He also forgave the publican of his sins. We know that because Levi immediately followed Christ, and Luke reveals that Levi left everything to follow Jesus (Luke 5:28). Unlike the rich young ruler who went away sorrowful, unwilling to recognize his own sins and admit to the authority of Christ; Levi joyfully forsook everything and followed his Lord and Savior. This is the proof of a real work of salvation. Levi made a decisive break from his old life – he left everything behind, and then a continuing pattern – he continued to follow, not just for a little while but for the rest of his life. That was the pattern. He was regenerated. He was a new creation. He had new longings, new aspirations, new affections, a new mind, and a new will.

Jesus: Enemy of the Self-Righteous

If anything could be more scandalous than calling a publican as a disciple; then going to the publican's house for dinner with all his rowdy friends was it. Do not be in doubt, rowdy were the only kind of friends that Levi had. The Greek word that Mark used is hamartōlos and it means "devoted to sin; pre-eminently sinful, especially wicked."

These are the kind of people that Bocephus invites over on Monday night. Only in this case, Bocephus – Levi – had been saved, and along with the rowdy friends there was the sinner's Friend! Gathered together in Levi's house (which had been paid for by the ill-gotten gains made off of honest folks) were the corrupt of Capernaum, and reclined in their midst, socializing and conversing with these pariahs of polite society, sat the pure, perfect, and sinless Son of Man.

The Pharisees had seen enough. John MacArthur describes the Pharisee's reaction as follows:

They were shocked, outraged that Jesus and His disciples would associate with this crowd. [The Pharisees] were the moral majority. But…God's not looking for a moral majority, He's looking for a holy minority. [The Pharisees] were concerned with externals…with what you see on the outside…what appears, pious and religious. They were moral, they weren't holy. They were void of grace, they were void of salvation. They were without God. Jesus was turning His back on the moral people and making sinners a holy people.

They still lacked the courage of their convictions, and were unwilling to display their disdain for Jesus directly. They were growing bolder, however, because they asked His disciples, "Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?" To these Pharisees (the word literally means "separatists") Jesus' behavior was unforgivable. How could this reputed teacher of God's Word disregard their time-honored customs? Why would he associate himself with tax collectors and sinners? Why did he not care about avoid the ritual impurity that comes by keeping such company? Surely a prophet's task was to denounce and damn such people, not to dine with them.

The Pharisees were wrong. Christ's task was to die for sinners, and to call sinners to repentance. Remember those blessed eleven words! "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Christ was not at that banquet to lend credence to sinful behavior. He was there to call these sinners to turn from their sinfulness and to follow Him. Christ called Levi to follow Him; not to continue doing what he had been doing. And that is what Levi did. No longer was he the wicked lackey of Rome. The cruel extortionist was dead, and a new man created in Christ Jesus was born.

To the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-8) Jesus did not say: "You're only human; it's to be expected. Don't worry about it. The Pharisees are no better than you. Maybe if your husband would have loved you more you wouldn't have sought affection in the arms of another." Christ said to that sinful woman, "I [do not] condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." (Emphasis added)

This is not a surprise, because Jesus said:

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)

Whether you are a "good" person or an undisputed evil doer, all are sinners who fall short of God's glory. All are condemned unless they believe. Only those who recognize their sin and repent of it will be saved. All must come to Christ as needy sinners. R. Kent Hughes writes, "The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness, but my badness; not my merit, but my misery; not my standing, but my falling; not my riches, but my need." (p. 73)

Christianity is not for good people. It is for sinners. Christ is not the friend of the self-righteous. He is the friend of sinners. The church is not for people who think they're righteous; it's for people who know they are not. The church is not a museum of stain-glassed saints; it is a hospital for the sin sick. The task of Christ's church is to light the darkness and salt the savorless. That is accomplished by dying daily to self, following Jesus, and directing others to do likewise.

Christ's followers did not then and must not now isolate themselves from a needy world. Christ's followers did not then and must not now assimilate to a sinful world. Following Christ is not a life of isolation or assimilation; it is a mission.

"I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." That is good news indeed!