Tuesday, April 29, 2008

All in the (Church) Family part 1

1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus are referred to as the Pastoral Epistles because, in them, Paul gives instructions to his young associates as to how they should maintain the spiritual oversight and pastoral care of their respective churches. However, just because these letters were originally written to pastors does not mean that they are not practical for all Christians! There are no portions of Scripture that can be ignored.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Pastoral Epistles apply to pastors the same as they apply to laymen. And 1 Timothy is really a practical book about how the church is to function. 1 Timothy 3:15 is the key verse of the book:
That thou mayest know how thou ought to behave thyself in ... the church of the living God.
This whole book explains what should be the priorities, practices, and policies of a church. That is stuff of which all believers should be aware!

In chapter 1 Paul stresses what the message of the church should be. And that message is to be one of sound doctrine and the “glorious gospel”. Doctrine simply means teaching, and doctrine is important, it is a priority of the church to clearly, charitably, and consistently teach and preach the Word of God. We are to teach and preach “sound doctrine according to the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” Paul said in 1:10-11.

This sound doctrine; the glorious gospel, is not something that is manufactured. It is God’s, and churches are simply and exclusively to use that which God has provided. The work of Christ’s witnesses is not to manufacture a message, to create a synthetic seed, or to modify the seed given them. The work of Christ's witnesses is to sow God’s revelation by proclaiming it exactly as He has given it. The power of new spiritual life is in the word, just as the power of plant life is in the seed. Scripture is God’s living word. It is living and active; discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The Spirit uses the word to produce life. It is the truth of the gospel that saves and that truth alone.

God is the source of Scripture Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16. Therefore all Scripture is profitable “for doctrine”what is right“for reproof”what is not right“for correction”how to get right – and “for instruction in righteousness”how to stay right. This is the message that God has given His church to study, learn, live, and proclaim.

In chapters 2-3 Paul discusses the role that different members play in the ministry of the church; specifically the role of women. Paul clearly declares that women are not to be pastors (vv. 11-12). In chapter two he talks about the importance of prayer. Indeed, that is how the chapter begins:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and [for] all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
The church needs to be a house of prayer. Church members need to be people of prayer, and not just praying for people who are well liked, but praying for all men. The main thing for which we pray is their salvation!

In chapter three Paul lists the qualifications of pastors and deacons. What should a church want in a pastor or a deacon? Well look no further than 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9. Of all the qualification listed in those two passages there is only one core competency mentioned – “apt to teach” – and the rest are all character qualities. To be qualified to pastor one of the Lord’s churches does not mean that you have to be a musical genius, construction manager, financial wizard, or corporate CEO. He must:
be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
In chapter 4 Paul goes into more detail about the qualities that a good minister should have.

He should preach the Word of God - verse 6

He should practice the Word of God - verse 12. Don't teach it if you won't live it! Now, this is not a call for perfection. No preacher is perfect, but your pastor should be an “example of the believers.” A good example is the best illustration of Biblical teaching.

He should be progressing in the Word of God - verses 13-16. A pastor should be continually growing spiritually. None of us will ever get to the point where we can say, “Well, I've learned all that the Bible can teach me!” Because that just isn't possible.

Let me say this, it shouldn't be just the pastor who fits this description, but all of us should possess these qualities as well. What the Lord demands of those who will pastor His churches He desires of those who are in His churches.

When we get to chapters 5 and 6, Paul writes about the church's ministry to several different groups of people: old and young widows, church leaders, servants, troublemakers (false teachers), the pastor and the rich. But I want you to notice the first two verses of chapter 5 in particular. This passage gives us instruction in how we should treat each other in the church:
Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.
Treating your fellow church members the right way is a pretty important issue. We need to know how we are supposed to respond to one another if we are to properly serve one another and reach our community with the Gospel. And the way we treat one another can be a potential problem, because we don't always treat each other like we should. That causes friction in the flock. That's not a good thing; at least, too much friction is not a good, God-honoring thing.

All too often you hear about churches splitting or going under because of relationship problems. That ought not to be! Churches often split because they are not treating each other and their pastor like they should. When stuff like that happens, not only does it damage and wound the members of the church, but it damages, and maybe even destroys, the testimony of the church; hindering its ability to minister in its community.

I have been told about a church that was populated almost exclusively by people who all worked for the same company. There were members who were company employees and members who were union. Well, there was a strike, and the tension between the company people and the union people in the church became so serious that many families left the church. The strike basically ripped the church apart.

I have a hard time understanding how a church can allow something like that to rip it apart. I mean, where are your loyalties? Should you love the Local more than the church? Should your company take precedence over the Lord's church for which Christ bled and died? No, it shouldn't! Stories like those prove to us that unity and harmony in the church is often a fragile thing, and it's something that we must work at and pray about.

Churches that are serving the Lord, preaching and proclaiming the Gospel are the kinds of churches that Satan wants to destroy. The most effective strategy Satan employs to destroy sound churches is, not through persecution from the outside, not from forces from without but fractures from within.

Unity and harmony do not just happen. We need to work towards a spirit of unity and harmony. It must be a priority. The Psalmist said:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
We must learn how to treat one another as 1 Timothy 5:1-2 teaches. I think that it's great how that when God requires something of us, He shows us through His Word how we are to go about it. You know, He just didn't tell Noah, “Noah, I want you to build an Ark. You have about 100 years or so to finish it. I'll check back with you in a decade or two.” No, He gave Noah a materials list and blueprint. All Noah had to do was obey, and the same is true for us. We have His Word; all we need to do is learn it and obey it.

Be back here tomorrow for the "rest of the story."


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Join the Revolution!

Do not misunderstand. This is not a vast right-wing conspiratorial call-to-arms. I just don't bend in that direction. This is most definitely not a call to climb aboard the "Obama Movement." I am not a fan of the "Phenomenon".

I invite you to join a much more enjoyable and profitable Revolution: the board game created, designed, and hand crafted by my friend and ministry colleague Philip DuBarry.

Click here to learn more about this interesting and fun to play board-game. At that website you may view a tutorial on how to play the game, and you will be able to order your own copy. I am eagerly awaiting mine!

If you enjoy board-games then you will want to join the Revolution!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Growing and Sowing Believer

The two parables that are recorded in Mark 4:26-34, the growing seed and the mustard seed, illustrate and teach about the growing and sowing believer, and they follow the parable of the glowing believer. The text reads:
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? [It is] like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear [it]. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.
Sowingvv. 26-29

The parable of the growing seed – vv. 26-29 – is unique to Mark’s gospel, and it supplements the parable of the sower/soils by explaining in more depth the growth of the seed in the good soil. We have learned from the sower/soils parable that only one-fourth of the ground will bear fruit. That should not dissuade the believer from being a faithful sower. This first parable reminds us that we are to sow, sow some more, and continue sowing! This is the sole responsibility, authority, and privilege of the Lord’s churches. We are to be groups of gospel seed sowers; scattering the gospel seed anywhere and everywhere; regardless of the soil’s condition. According to this parable we have no power, ability, or even awareness of whether or not the seed will grow, or, for that matter, how the seed grows. We are simply called to ceaselessly sow the seed. As Warren Wiersbe writes:
We cannot make the seed grow; in fact we cannot even explain how it grows. There is a mystery to the growth of the seed and the development of the harvest.
This ignorance of how it works and inability to make it work requires that we exhibit patience in the work and trust in the Father; as well as His seed.

This I do not know from experience, but I do know it from observation; farming requires faith, patience, and hard work. A farmer has zero control over the environment. He can prepare the ground, plant the seed, and cultivate the field. But he can no more make the seed grow than he can make the rain fall. He can only do what he can do when he can do it and patiently trust God with the rest.
Therefore we are to faithfully, persistently, and patiently sow the seed; even though we know that 75% of the ground will not produce good fruit. It is easy to become discouraged when only 25% of the ground yields a harvest. That is why Paul encouraged the saints with these words:
Galatians 6:8-9 – “He that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Not even all of the ones who heard Jesus preach would repent of their sins and trust Him as their Lord and Savior. Many pseudo-disciples turned back and would no longer follow Christ because he preached the gospel unto them. Others became so agitated at his gospel seed sowing that they plotted his death and brought their evil scheme to fruition. But praise God that some seed fell on good ground and continues to fall on good ground.

While we should not become weary in well doing, we must also understand that only God possess the power and the secret of life. John Philips writes in his commentary:
The biologist can dissect the seed and expose and name its various parts. The geneticist can go even deeper into the structure of things and define the seed’s genetic code. He can clone and produce identical plants. He can breed and produce hybrid plants. But if no life is there it is all in vain. The most zealous believer can no more convert a soul than he could create a star.
Conversion is a miracle, as is all life. It is certainly no commonplace occurrence, and it is not something which should be taken for granted. Life is a miracle and it is owed to God. He has seen fit to use His churches to sow the life giving message of Christ crucified, buried, raised, and coming again.

Growingvv. 30-32

Verses 30-32 record the parable of the mustard seed which is also documented in the other synoptics (Matthew 13:31-35; Luke 13-18-19). This parable is a favorite among Biblical critics and cynics; not because they love the truth herein taught. Instead, they believe this parable proves that scripture is errant and that Jesus was either purposely or ignorantly mistaken. Their criticism is related to the mustard seed. That seed is not the smallest of all seeds, and the mustard plant is not a tree. Therefore, say the critics, scripture is errant instead of inerrant, and Christ attempted to deceive his hearers or he didn’t know anything about horticulture.

John MacArthur’s responds well to this criticism in his commentary on Matthew’s account of this parable.
He was not comparing this seed to all other seeds in existence but only to the seeds of garden plants in Palestine. Many seeds, such as those of the wild orchid, are much smaller than the seeds of the mustard plant. But of the many plants grown at that time in the gardens and fields of Palestine, the mustard plant has the smallest seeds, just as Jesus said.

Many varieties of mustard plants are rather small bushes whose branches are too flimsy for birds to nest. But the mustard plant of Palestine often grows to a height of twelve to fifteen feet. At certain times of the year the branches become rigid enough to easily support a bird’s nest.
Christ cannot lie, and the Creator of the universe and everything therein, is not horticulturally impaired. Remember that Jesus was not taping a segment for HGTV. While what he said was literally accurate, his purpose was proverbial. More than anything this parable illustrates the gospel’s influence being small in its origin but growing and eventually ranging worldwide.

Remember that these parables – the soils and the mustard seed – are kingdom parables, and they aid us in unlocking the “mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). The mystery is this: the kingdom of God is partly but not fully come. The Old Testament hints to this truth in Isaiah 53 (the suffering servant), in messianic Psalms, as well as some other messianic prophecies, but by and large the Old Testament does not clearly separate the two comings of Christ. The Old Testament focuses on the Lord coming and finally dealing with sin, defeating his enemies, and gathering his people into an eternal kingdom of peace, righteousness, and joy.
The mystery is that this kingdom would arrive in two stages: first, with Jesus coming as a suffering servant to atone for sin, and second, with Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Luke 17:20-21; Luke 19:11-12). Christ said that many prophets and righteous people longed to see and hear what we of the new covenant see and hear in regards to the kingdom, but it was a mystery (Matthew 13:16-17).

The mustard seed illustrates how the first coming of Christ was small and insignificant. He was born into a poor, nondescript family. He was birthed in a barn; a manger was his first bassinet. The backwaters of the Roman Empire was his home; “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Initially the kingdom came like a mustard seed and not a military coup. The King has come; first on a donkey with a branch of peace and amnesty. The King is coming, and this time it will be on a great white horse with a sword of judgment. Many kingdom blessings have been fulfilled, but the consummation is still future.

John Piper writes:
The kingdom really has arrived. Unprecedented fulfillments of God's purposes are in the offing. The King has come. The King has dealt with sin once for all in the sacrifice of himself. The King sits at the Father's right hand and reigns now until all his enemies are under his feet. The King's righteousness is now already ours by faith. The King's Spirit is now already dwelling in us. The King's holiness is now already being produced in us. The King's joy and peace have now already been given to us. The King's victory over Satan is now already ours as we use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The King's power to witness is now already available to us. And the King's gifts—the gifts of his Spirit—are now already available for ministry.

And now with a sober awareness of the mystery of the kingdom—present yet future; fulfilled but not consummated—let us go on as a church to seek the kingdom first—to discover all we yet should be for the salvation of lost sinners and the glory of King Jesus!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Norman Gale Gilbert - 1945 - 2008

Early on Wednesday morning, April 16, my uncle Norman Gale Gilbert passed from this life to the next. I ask the readers of this blog to pray for his family: his wife Robin, and his adult children: Karen, DeWayne, Shannon, and Angelica. I preached his funeral on Saturday afternoon, April 20. The following is a manuscript of that sermon.

This afternoon we honor the memory of Norman Gale Gilbert; a son, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and/or friend to all those here assembled. Norman was born to Henry and Eva Gilbert on February 6, 1945 in Whitesburg, KY; the fifth of seven children and the first of two brothers. He left this world on April 16, 2008 from Lawrenceburg, IN; having lived for 63 years.

Norman is survived by his wife Robin, his children Karen, DeWayne, Shannon, and Angelica, his sisters Glenna, Lorene, Anna Sue, Henrietta, and Sherri, and his brother Jimmie. He is also survived by several grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

These simple and brief facts concerning Norman’s life took only seconds to read, and they are only able to provide a muted sketch of the man. The details are few and brief; inadequate to fully express the character, influence, and impact of his life. The sketch may only be filled in and colored by your memories. Those memories are able to transform a rough sketch into a vibrant and expressive portrait of a life worth remembering.

My childhood memories are fully stocked with images and sounds of Uncle Gale. What stands out to me is his laugh. It seems to me that Gale was always laughing with, or more likely, laughing at someone whenever the family was together, and there was no mistaking his raspy cackle. I remember that he loved to give people nicknames. I was affectionately referred to as “Skidrow.” I also remember being confused by his nickname; never fully understanding why some people called him “Slim”.

What I remember most, however, is the summer of ‘87. That was the year that Mom and Dad bought the Dillsboro property and began to build the house in which they currently live. I remember going out to the building site every day with Dad, and Uncle Gale was always there to help. Yes, we had occasional help from other family and friends, but Uncle Gale faithfully and consistently aided his younger brother in building that house. Those are special memories, and they dominate my portrait of this man.

He gave me a new nickname during that year: “Gopher”. During that hot, Cicada flying summer, while working side by side with a shirtless Uncle, I finally asked the question that had bugged me for so long: “Why on earth do they call you Slim?”

He looked at my shirtless 14 year old frame and promptly christened me with yet another nickname. He said, “Because I used to look like you, Boney Maroney.”

It is those types of memories that fill in the tiny dash between the years 1945 – 2008. Those numbers are innocuous; no different from any other person who shares those identical dates. Your memories however, are unique, emotional, and full of information that tells who Norman Gilbert was.

All of us are building a legacy. We are spending our lifetimes establishing what that timy dash between the dates will mean. Think about that before you speak and act, before you make decisions. What will your legacy be?

All of us are gathered together this afternoon so that we may celebrate Norman's life, honor his memory, and comfort one another, especially his family as they grieve over their loss. As a pastor, I can think of no better place to turn for comfort than the scriptures. At such times as this I draw particular comfort from John 14:1-6:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, ‘Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’
This passage is so comforting because it records what Jesus said to His closest friends and followers on the night before he was to offer himself as the sacrifice for mankind's sin. He understood that his friends and disciples would be sorely grieved at his death, and he was preparing them for the pain, shock, and dread that they would inevitably experience.

He did not comfort them with lies, because to a grieving heart lies only provide temporary comfort, if even that, and leave a person more devastated than before once the lie is revealed. He did not comfort them with a promise of wealth, fortune, or fame. He did not comfort them with a trite statement such as: “It will be alright.” A phrase like that is borne out of a desire to say something helpful but not knowing what is helpful to say. In such cases it is perfectly acceptable and infinitely wise to stay silent. To be a shoulder on which one may cry, and an arm on which one may lean.

The Lord, however, was never at a loss for words. He always knew what to say and how to say it. He knew that things would actually become worse for his followers before they would be better. So when their hearts were naturally and understandably troubled, he said, “Don’t be troubled.”

How was that possible? Is that possible now? It was, and is possible because Christ was going to prepare a place for them, and because he promised to return for them.

Here is the good news that I want to share with you: Jesus Christ is our hope. He is our only hope. Thomas asked Jesus the question that all of us ask at some point and in some manner. He said, “How can we know the way?” The answer that Christ gave was the hope of Thomas’ salvation, and it is the only hope of salvation for you and me. The answer, our hope, is Christ. Christ alone is the road that leads to so great a salvation. Christ alone leads to that perfect home in heaven. Christ alone is our promise of ultimate joy and reward, in this life and in the life to come. We know this is true because Jesus said that He was, “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”

This is the good news of the gospel. That Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins according to the scriptures. He was buried, and three days later he rose from the grave, according to the scriptures. Christ was the acceptable sacrifice for our sins. His death on the cross satisified the holy justice of the loving God. Only Christ could atone for our sins, and he did. Only Christ could conquer death and the grave, and he did.

Christ is our only hope, and faith in Christ is the only way to be saved. Through the course of our lives we place our trust in a great many things, but only by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ will you be saved and have a place prepared for you in heaven.

Death is real, and it is painful. Salvation is real, and it is blessed. Salvation is real because God is real, and because He is the God of comfort and compassion; holiness and justice. He loved us enough to sacrfice His son on the cross in our place. If you believe in your heart that God raised Christ from the dead, and if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord then God will save you.

I can think of nothing which will bring any of us any greater comfort than that.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] you may be also.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blogging Hiatus

The posts were sparse last week, and there will be more of the same this week as I will be together for the Gospel in Louisville, KY with some of my closest friends in the ministry.

The men pictured below are not my closest ministry friends, but they are men I respect and admire. They are also the hosts of the T4G conference. They are, from left to right: CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever.

See you in a week (or more)!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Congratulations to Michael Ramirez for winning the Editorial Cartooning Pulitzer Prize. Ramirez is a favorite of mine, and his cartoons regularly grace the Oxgoad's "Saturday Morning Cartoons" series. In honor of Ramirez' accomplishment I've included, not just one, but several of his cartoons from this past week, and I've given him top billing.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

BIll Clinton in Greencastle, IN

The self-described "rural hitman" of the Hillary Clinton campaign will be in another Indiana smalltown this Friday. The former President has already visited my former hometown of Lawrenceburg, IN. This weekend he will be in my current hometown of Greencastle, IN.

I believe the man is looking for me!

Probably not.

According to the Banner Graphic the former chief executive...
is tentatively scheduled to speak at 1 p.m., but it may be more like 2 or 2:30 p.m.
According to this report, Mr. Clinton will be speaking at the South Putnam Central Elementary School Gymnasium. That is not actually in Greencastle, but that is what the paper has reported.

This will actually be the second former head of state that Greencastle will have hosted. In March Tony Blair was a guest of DePauw University. I think it's impressive that a community of roughly 10,000 will have hosted a former British PM and US President.

Of course, if Chelsea would visit Greencastle then we'd really be stepping in high cotton. Today the former (and future?) first daughter spoke at three Indiana college campuses, one of them my alma mater, and current employer, Ivy Tech Community College. Ms. Clinton told the crowd:
We're in a lot of trouble right now, and it matters that my mother has been through the fire. (emphasis mine)
I'm not sure what Ms. Clinton's remarks mean. Exactly what fire has her mother endured? Unless she means sniper fire on the tarmac in Bosnia.

The Simpsons are Bad, but Baywatch is Good?

While scanning my Google Reader this morning the headline: "Venezuela axes "The Simpsons" as bad for kids" caught my attention. It's my personal opinion that the dictatorial, socialistic leadership of Hugo Chavez is bad for Venezuelan children, but I digress. I was modestly impressed that the powers-that-be decided to drop Bart and his dysfunctional family from the airwaves, but then I read the story. Here is the opening paragraph:

Venezuela has forced U.S. cartoon "The Simpsons" of its airwaves, calling the show a potentially bad influence on children, and filled its morning slot with reruns of the beach-and-bikini show "Baywatch."

I'm wondering how the "bikini show" could be less of a "potentially bad influence on children."


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk

I have no clue what that means, but it is probably the most uttered phrase of the day as Kansas Jayhawk fans celebrate the National Championship that should not have been.

For the first time ever I had correctly selected all four semifinalists, but I was 0-2 in my picks for the finals. That mattered little to me, and I was entertained by this year's final. But as a former (high school) basketball player I felt sick watching the Memphis Tigers launch one brick after another from the foul line in the game's final minutes. Memphis simply imploded done the stretch, while Kansas kept pecking away until they were the ones cutting down the nets.

In a post-game interview Memphis guard Derrick Rose said:

It wasn't really the free throws. If we'd done things before the free throws, we would've been in good shape.

Actually, Derrick, it was the free throws. I'm sure there were other aspects of the game which the team could have done better, but it was the failure to hit clutch free throws that cost Memphis this game. Contrast their inability to knock down charity shots with Mario Chalmers' game-tying, championship saving three at game's end.

I tend to agree more with Chris Douglas-Roberts, the other Memphis guard, who missed three consecutive free throws down the stretch. He said:

It hurts, you know. It really hurts. They made some great plays down the stretch, and Mario hit a big shot at the end of regulation...We missed those shots. No excuses. They won the game fairly. I thought the officiating was really good. We just came up short.

This was another fun tournament, and another exciting finish. Too bad the NBA and NHL playoffs can't follow the NCAA's post-season style.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Theology of Suffering

Although I cannot recall the exact time of day, or for that matter, which day exactly, I’ll never forget the moment. The moment occurred during the summer of ’85, I was just 12 years old, and mine had been a very sheltered and protected 12 years. In fact, it was while sleeping in my very own room, completely at ease an unconcerned with anything in the world that my sheltered and protected existence was shaken to the foundations for the very first time, because on this particular evening I was awakened from my sleep by an unexpected splash of light; startled, and with spots in my eyes, I looked towards the door of my room. I could tell right away that it was Mom, but I couldn’t tell that she was crying, at least, not until she sat down beside me. Pulling me close and holding on to my shoulders, with her tears wetting my chest, Mom said, “Travis, Popaw has just died.” Until then, I had only witnessed the suffering of others, but at that moment, and in the next few days that followed, it was to be experienced.

I had cried before, but never like I cried that night, first at home, and then later at Popaw’s house; everyone was there, everyone except Popaw. At the funeral I remember looking at Mom and Dad in a whole new light. Since that fateful evening eighteen summers ago, I have been reacquainted with suffering many times. Dianna and I have endured two heart-wrenching miscarriages.

I know that everyone has faced similar experiences, and it is not uncommon, and it is not wrong, to wonder why God allows such things to happen. What is His purpose for allowing such sadness in our lives? The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter. Notice that I did not say all spiritual progress comes via failure and tears, I said more. Through God’s grace and might, we discover that those incidents make us more sensitive, faithful, and useful to the cause of Christ.

I believe that sound, Biblical theology is pleasing to God, and I believe that all Christians should be theologians. Thus, Christians should possess a sound theology of suffering, in order to please God and for our own spiritual and emotional benefit. Obviously, sound theology must be Biblical theology. From Isaiah 53:3 we read:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
This passage is a prophecy of Christ's work on the cross, about this passage John Stott says,
The God who allows us to suffer, once suffered Himself in Christ…The cross of Christ is the proof of God’s personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain.
Still, we are continually bombarded with the notion that “successful” Christian living takes place in the realm of constant victory, health, wholeness, and financial prosperity. Let me say it plain, such notions are the product of empty heads and closed Bibles. We must not pretend that suffering doesn’t exist or that it might be instantly cured, or that it is reserved for those under the judgment of God. When the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire he made sure that they were in no doubt about the place and purpose of suffering. 1 Peter 4:12-16, 19:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy [are ye]; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or [as] a thief, or [as] an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters.Yet if [any man suffer] as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls [to him] in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
There is no attempt on the apostle’s part to explain the presence of suffering as a result of unconfessed sin or an absence of faith. Peter declares that those who suffer for the cause of Christ should continue to commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do what is good.

Paul also spoke to this issue. In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 the apostle wrote:
[We are] troubled on every side, yet not distressed; [we are] perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed
How was it that Paul was often knocked down but never knocked out? It is because “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” We are vessels so that God might use us, and we are earthen vessels so that we might depend on God’s power and not our own. We must focus on the treasure and not on the vessel. Paul was not afraid of suffering or trial, because he knew that God would guard the vessel so long as Paul was guarding the treasure.

The puritan Thomas Watson said,
Suffering may be lasting, but it is not everlasting.
Peter reminds us that suffering is only for “a season” and he assures us that
the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle [you]. (1 Peter 1:6; 5:10)
The trouble is, when you are enduring suffering it seems to last forever! Nevertheless, in light of eternity even seventy years of continual heartbreak and suffering is but a blink of an eye!

This brings us back to why Christians need a sound theology of suffering, because if we do not we are in danger of marginalizing our expectations of heaven. Too many of us are preoccupied with the here and now and the me and mine, and we compound that with the idea of getting everything that we want down here. If we conclude that we are now to experience total healing, total reconciliation, total restoration, limitless joy, unparalleled success, and freedom from pain, then why be concerned about heaven? Do not be devoted to trying to produce heaven on earth; instead, recognize that, as Christians, the best is yet to come!
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding [and] eternal weight of glory;While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen [are] temporal; but the things which are not seen [are] eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Today there is death and tears, mourning and pain, but one day these will all be things of the past.

To be sure, it would be wrong to suggest that in suffering we know God’s presence exclusively, however, in suffering we do know God’s presence especially. While traveling through tough times and dark days we are tempted to believe that we walk alone; thankfully that is not true. I also want to assert that suffering, in and of itself, will not always lead a person into a deeper relationship with God; it can, and, I believe, it should, but that is really left up to the individual. Some people have responded to suffering and trials in such a way as to become hard, cold, and rebellious, while others display a spirit of humility. What makes the difference? Faith does, because while both people may declare that they do not understand why God would permit such sadness in their lives, only the latter adopt a humble attitude and affirm, “Although I do not understand, I will trust You.” Along that avenue there is peace and growth, while on the other side of the street there is only confusion, disgruntlement, and sadness.

God in His goodness has blessed me immensely; blessed me with a life partner that is a true and wonderful help meet, with three sons full of life and vitality, with a family that has always loved me and shielded me, with a church that wants me to succeed and be fruitful, helping me towards that end, with a mentor from whom I have learned, trained, and with whomI have labored. I have been blessed with a healthy body and a mostly-sound mind. But when I think of any realistic and lasting progress that’s been made in my life, they are unquestionably linked, not only with my successes, but mainly with my failures, tears, disappointments, and heartaches.

The Puritan Abraham Wright said,
I am mended by my sickness, enriched by my poverty, and strengthened by my weakness…What fools are we then to frown upon our afflictions! They are not indeed for our pleasure, they are for our profit.

What of you? Will you run away from your hardships? Deny your failures? View suffering as simply an unwanted intruder? Will you “frown upon your afflictions”? Or will you resolve to be a Hebrews 11 saint; understanding that suffering is “not indeed for your pleasure, but for your profit”?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Meet Abigail Joy Luckhaupt

The Gilbert and Luckhaupt families were blessed by God with the safe and healthy arrival of Abigail Joy Luckhaupt on Thursday, April 3 at 6:33am. Abigail (who, according to her mother, is not to be called "Abby") arrived weighing 5 lbs 5 oz and 17" long. Abigail was born in Lawrenceburg, IN; she was delivered in a hospital and not a driveway. Abby, whoops, Abigail is my third niece on my side of the family, and my eleventh niece overall. It appears that only Dianna and I are able to produce male children; although Abigail does have an older brother: the two year old tornado Elijah Jay (who turned two today). Here are some pictures of little Abigail; as my mom would say, "She is so precious!"

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Pregnant Man?! redux

Last week I blogged about an Oregon couple's joyful expectation of their first child. That doesn't sound too unusual. Children are a blessing from the Lord, and their arrival should be joyfully anticipated. What makes this particular couple's story unusual is this little detail: the husband is the pregnant partner.

Is this a miracle? No it is not; in spite of what Ms. Lagondino told Oprah. Is this proof that evolution is true; that humans have evolved to the point where men are able to become pregnant? No. This is a woman - Tracy Lagondino - who had a sex change operation to legally, although not really, become a man - Thomas Beatie. The purpose of this post is not the regurgitation of the previous one; which you may read
here. The purpose of this post is...
  • To follow up on the one post which has driven a horde of traffic to this blog. The Oxgoad has been hit 25-30 times a day by people who have searched the Internet using the words "Tracy Lagondino", "Thomas Beatie", "pregnant man", etc. (Yes, 25-30 extra hits per day is a "horde" of traffic for this blog.)
  • To respond to the sole comment that last week's article engendered
I received a solitary comment on the original post, and the commenter did not share my understanding of the situation. Here is "skylana's" comment:

wow, i always forget that there are still people as close minded and cruel as you out there. why does it make you so upset that these people have found something that makes them happy? i understand not agreeing with it, but it making you upset seems really weird. i hope that someday someone close to you, like your child or another family member goes through something like a sex change so you can have some compassion and understanding towards people who are different than you. what is sad and pathetic to me is how angry you are over someone elses happiness simply because you choose not to understand it. how childish.

"Wow" indeed! A woman has her breasts surgically removed, received hormone therapy to look and sound masculine, married another woman, and then, thanks to IVF, became impregnated, and I am the weird one.

I understand her charge of being "close-minded". I believe Ms. Lagondino's gender confusion, Lesbian "marriage", and the birth of an innocent child into such confusion is tragic. Thus, my mind is closed. I understand and am comfortable with that criticism, and if being open-minded means viewing as acceptable or normal trans-gendered marriages and pregnancies; then I am closed-minded.

Except I'm not. Being open-minded does not mean universal, unilateral acceptance of everything under the sun. I am open to the viewpoints of others. I am willing to learn and be intellectually and culturally stretched. This story is stretching it way too far, however, and it is simply wrong.

What I do not understand is the accusation of being cruel, unless skylana means that, since I find this whole affair "a sad and pathetic commentary on our culture" I am therefore a cruel human being. She used that identical phrase - "sad and pathetic" in her comment as she referred to me as angry and childish. I was not then, nor am I now, angry about this story. I am saddened by it all, and I do find it pathetic. I do not believe that constitutes cruelty, but wishing that my children will grow up to have a sex change operation...well now, that's kinda cruel.

I also understand her suggestion that I am upset at the happiness of others. Please understand, I like happiness. I am all for happiness; my own, as well as the happiness of others, but I do not believe that gender confusion leads to happiness. I would say the same thing about promiscuity, drunkenness, or any number of behaviors in which many people futilely engage as they grasp for an unattainable happiness. Just because it feels good (at the moment) doesn't mean you should do it, and it most certainly does not guarantee your happiness.

That is why I said "unattainable happiness". The pursuit of happiness is not just an inalienable right or a Will Smith movie. The pursuit of happiness is a human trait. It is a natural, God-given desire to pursue happiness, but there is only one avenue that leads to ultimate happiness. The person who will be happy will not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; but his delight will be in the law of the Lord. The person who pursues happiness will achieve it if he delights himself in the Lord. Do so and the Lord will give you the desires of your heart, and one may be assured that those desires will be consistent with God's word.

So you want to be happy? Get it right on the inside. Down deep inside remove the trash, the shame, the fear, the clutter, the guilt. Repent of it. Repent of the thought that maybe you can make your life better than God can. The key to real happiness in your life and my life is connecting in a delighted way to God's Word.

Finally, as to the indictment that I am not being compassionate because I can not rejoice in this woman's gender confusion and pregnancy, let me just say that the truth - God's truth - is compassionate no matter how out of sync that truth may be with cultural consensus. Albert Mohler has clearly written an article - The Compassion of Truth: Homosexuality in Biblical Perspective - on this very subject.

I hold no ill will towards Tracy Lagondino, her expectant child, or her partner Nancy Roberts; however, I will not celebrate their sin. I am not referring to the child as their sin; the child is the only innocent person in this ordeal. The sin to which I am referring is their homosexuality.

Here are a few additional helpful links on this topic:

And several blog posts from Al Mohler:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Crean and Crimson

Tom Crean will be announced as the new head basketball coach of my beloved Indiana Hoosiers. If I prayed about such things (and I don't) this hire would have been an overwhelmingly positive answer. I am beside myself with giddiness.

Coach Crean and IU have agreed to an eight-year $18.24 million deal that will pay him an average of $2.3 million per season.
The new coach is quoted as saying:

I cannot begin to tell you how excited we are to join the Indiana University family. This is one of the elite institutions and basketball programs in America and we take the responsibility of upholding that tradition very seriously. We want to build a program that the people of Indiana can be proud of, both on and off the basketball court.

With yesterday's news that interim coach Dan Dakich had dismissed JaMarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett, I was tempted to write a post describing the free fall of this once storied program. The post never happened because I just did not have the motivation. Coach Verizon's ethics coupled with the players' immaturity made posting about IU a chore. I got tired all over just thinking about the Hoosiers.

The Crean hire, however, has recharged my batteries.

Tom Crean was my number one choice two years ago when Greenspan hired Kelvin Sampson seemingly out of the blue. Evidently, Crean was not interested in position back then, or Greenspan did not show enough interest in him. I'm not sure which view is correct, if either of them, and I don't care. I'm just glad he is here now.

Crean is a solid recruiter, and he will be able to bring some of the top Indiana prep talent to Bloomington. He has an impeccable record. That is definitely needed, and not just because of the recent violations. Ethics are always a necessity; not only on the heels of unethical behavior, but in order to prevent unethical actions. Crean is young enough - 42 - to build the program, but he is experienced enough - 9 years at Marquette as head coach - to take over one of the nation's premier basketball programs.

He has a hard road to travel. Potentially, his best player next year will be DeAndre Thomas. DJ White and Lance Stemler just finished their senior season. Eric Gordon will most likely turn pro; remember, the Association drafts on potential not on proven ability. Jordan Crawford has threatened to transfer. Ellis and Bassett have been dismissed. Plus, IU's top two, and already signed, recruits - Terrell Holloway and Devin Ebanks - have requested to be released from their national letters-of-intent. No doubt, Coach Crean's most difficult work will not be the X's and O's, but the rebuilding of this program.

Rebuilding is the right word. The September 2000 firing of Bob Knight had followed six disappointing seasons. The eight years following Knight's dismissal have been abysmal, with only a few bright spots (Every IU fan needed 2002). This past season was supposed to be a bright spot, and it was until the NCAA released its report indicating that Kelvin Sampson had lied and cheated. I say cheated because breaking the rules for the second time is cheating, not an innocent mistake. Tom Crean will not be traveling south dragging unwanted baggage.

Check out the VodPod video suite to watch the BigTen Network's analysis of the hire, and here are some other links that you may want to visit.