Thursday, April 21, 2016

Winsome Witness or Culture Warrior?

Do you know people who aren't followers of Christ? Do you share the love and gospel of Jesus with those who others may even condemn? Do you demonstrate convictional kindness? Are you a winsome witness, or merely a culture warrior?

"After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. 'Follow me,' Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'" (Luke 5:27-32).

Friday, March 18, 2016

In an Angry, Coarse and Vulgar World

In a letter written over two millennia ago, the writer had advice and admonition particulaly relevant for how we should conduct ourselves amidst the hostility and vulgarity of our own day:

Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Reject foolish and ignorant arguments, knowing that they breed quarrels. Be gentle and patient with everyone. Answer opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and lead them to know truth. Perhaps they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the enemy having been captured and convinced to do his bidding (paraphrased from 2 Timothy 2).

Our calling, in a world that is angry, coarse, and vulgar, is to stand in stark contrast. In fact, as Christ followers, we are to run after and lay hold of a more excellent way: holiness, faith, love, peace, gentleness, kindness, truth.

In so doing, others--even those who at present oppose us--may know the truth and come to their senses. Perhaps in faith they will turn and escape the enemy who has them trapped and working at odds with what is really in their best self-interest.

Enemies are like that of course. They trap, capture, confuse, and convince others to do their bidding. Enemies cowardly use others to advance their own agenda, offering affirmation and support until the other person no longer serves their purpose. Then they callously move on, leaving in their wake isolated and abandoned souls.

And Christ followers and Jesus freaks will be there to help pick up the pieces. Because that's the kind of God we serve and the kind of life He expects. Because His is a more excellent way.

Meanwhile, with love and gentleness and patience we stand and speak and serve in an angry, coarse, and vulgar world. Because others are counting on us. Even if they don't realize it yet.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

To Live is Christ: The Life and Legacy of Rev. Harold Whitlock


This is the sermon outline and remarks by Dr. Stan Norman who delivered the sermon for my Grandpa Whitlock's funeral today:

1.    Introductory remarks

On behalf of the Whitlock family, let me welcome you today to this memorial service for Harold Emmett Whitlock.  We are here today to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Harold Whitlock.  Harold’s life was rich and full.  Harold’s years on this earth were many, but even more important than the number of years he lived on this earth is the reality of Harold’s life, a life of loving fidelity in gospel service to the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of loving, faithful devotion to his dear wife, Zelma Frances, and to his son, Ron, and the rest of the Whitlock family.  By my count, Harold and Zelma enjoyed 78 years of marriage.

When Ron and David asked me to officiate this service and preach the message, two thoughts immediately crossed my mind.  After the initial shock quickly wore off, my first thought was, “What a privilege to be asked to do this.”  As I remarked to David, the family could not have given me any greater honor than to have the distinctive privilege of sharing in this service.  I am honored beyond words and pray that I am able to honor the memory of Harold Whitlock as well as minister the word of God in comfort, encouragement, and peace to the family and to friends today.  May the Lord make it so.

The second thought that began to germinate in my mind was to contemplate how Harold’s grandson, David, would preach this message.  I wrestled with the question, “What would David do? (WWDD!).  I thought, “Well, I will be David’s proxy.  I will stand in for him and try to honor his grandfather as David would.”  So, if I get weepy or emotional, or if I tell a story that seemingly is unrelated to anything going on here today, you will know that I was successful.
As a pastor and preacher of the gospel, David is often requested to preach funeral messages.  He has developed an approach that I find to be biblically compelling and pastorally attractive.  Through prayerful deliberation, David tries to find a biblical character whose account in Scripture contains themes or events that parallel the person that he is attempting to memorialize.  Being in this “WWDD” mode, I began my preparations trying to find a biblical character that best represents the life and legacy of Harold Emmett Whitlock.

OLD TESTAMENT BIBLICAL CHARACTERS

·         I briefly considered Methuselah, but then I decided that the measure of Harold’s life was far more significant than simply the number of years lived on this earth.

·         I thought about Noah—like Noah, Harold exemplified faithfulness and obedience in the midst of dark days and trying times.

·         I considered Abraham—who, through one son, was blessed by God with a rich legacy of godly descendants. 

·         Another person I considered was Joseph, who always sought to honor God and do the right thing, even at great personal expense and sacrifice, trusting that God would honor him in due time.

·         Maybe Harold’s life was like that of King David, “a man after God’s own heart.”

·         Or maybe, one of the OT prophets, like an Elijah, a simple preacher of bold faith.

NEW TESTAMENT BIBLICAL CHARACTERS

·         Maybe Harold’s life could be represented by one of the apostles, say an Andrew, who is presented to us in John’s Gospel as someone who leads others to Jesus.  Harold was known as a soul-winner, and his ministry was known as one that led others to Jesus.

·         Or maybe Harold’s life was exemplified by Simon Peter, or maybe the apostle John, or maybe John the Baptist, or maybe Philip, or Stephen, or some other person whose life is found in Scripture.

·         Try as I might, I could not settle on any single character, for several biblical characters seemed to embody in some capacity something about the life of Harold Whitlock.

·         As I continued to mull this over, my thoughts kept turning the apostle Paul.  And, it wasn’t so much the life of Paul where I saw a theme that captured the essence of Harold’s life, but rather, it was something Paul said, something that he wrote.

·         We read what I believe to be an apt description of the life of Harold Whitlock in Philippians 1:12-26.

PHILIPPIANS 1:12-26 (focal passage, v. 21): 

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

DAVID’S RECOLLECTIONS OF HIS GRANDFATHER—HAROLD WHITLOCK

Harold Whitlock’s life was the embodiment of the verse, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  He was not a perfect man; none of us are perfect.  Yet, if ever a life testified to the truth of “to live is Christ,” surely that life was found in Harold.  At this point, I want to share the words and reflections of a grandson whose grandfather was a model of “to live is Christ.”
Harold was almost 99 (May 2).  He was one of 11 children born to Rev. Andrew Franklin (AF) and Tennessee Belle Whitlock.  AF had surrendered to preach and was a student at SWBTS when Harold was born.  He was born on Seminary Hill (is that what you alums call it) in Fort Worth.  He used to brag with Dana that the two of them had to stick together since they were both born in Texas. . . .

He was perhaps the most challenging of the five sons of AF and Tennie Belle.  He ran away a few times—really ran away, hopping train cars and going wherever they were headed.  Once he and a friend ran away, hopping a train car and ended up out west, where his buddy had a girlfriend who had moved there.  They sent their luggage ahead by Western Union and caught a ride in an open box car.  As they arrived in the little town out west (New Mexico or Arizona), the hobos started yelling that police were shaking down everyone at the station.  So he and his friend hid themselves in the coal car.  Covered in coal dust from head to toe, they went to the Western Union office and looked in the window.  They saw their luggage, but the place was closed.  There had been a murder in the area and police spotted them peering in the store and arrested them as possible suspects.  Under interrogation, the buddy said they were there to meet the girl, and they told the police her name.  The questions stopped, and the Chief of Police was brought in to hear.  The Chief had them clean off their faces, and he recognized Harold’s friend.  The Chief was the girl's dad.  So, they were released. . . .

Another time Harold ran away, catching a train that unexpectedly turned North, and he ended up in northwest Oklahoma. His oldest brother and family lived near where he got off the train, so he went to them, and they took him in.  L.D. (the brother) wrote a letter to A.F. and told him where Harold was.  A.F. wrote Harold a letter.  Grandpa said he started reading it.  No admonition.  No begging him to come home.  No scolding.  In the letter, A.F. just shared how much they missed Harold and how the next Sunday was the church's annual ice cream social.  Grandpa said he started reading about how mamma was making a certain flavor ice cream, and Mrs. So and So was bringing another flavor, and so on.  Grandpa said he managed to hitch a ride and get back home in time for the ice cream social.

Harold would meet his future wife, Zelma Francis Allen in Hinton, during his father's pastorate there at FBC (Zelma is too ill to be with us today). Harold and Zelma decided to get married and move to California.  During the depression, there weren't many jobs in Oklahoma, so Harold and Zelma decided to get married and move to California.  They didn't think Zelma's family would allow her to move off on such a whim.  They came up with a plan to get married and the produce a marriage certificate that they believed would allow them to go. So, they eloped.  Harold and Zelma were careful about their plan and did some research.  They discovered that OKC published marriage certificates in the newspaper, but the paper in Guthrie did not.  So they snuck out of town and eloped to Guthrie and came back to their respective homes that night in Hinton.  A few weeks later, Aunt Florence discovered their secret and insisted Zelma get Harold over to Florence’s house to consummate the marriage!  They did, and their marriage was announced publicly. 

The plan was for Harold to hitchhike to CA to find a job, and when he did, he would send for Zelma.  He got to a town that had a similar name as one in Northern California where he’d been told a job was.  He soon realized, however, he was still nearly 800 miles from the right city.  Depressed and alone on a Sunday, he found the First Baptist Church and wandered in and sat down for service.  And up in the choir loft was the mother of a former classmate from another town where his dad had once pastored.  They had moved there without him knowing about it.  This family gave him a place to stay, and he was able to look for work.  He said seeing her was one of the most happy moments!
He sent for Zelma and they lived in CA for many years.  He worked as a Fireman on a train, traveling the rails (this time being paid for it).  During WWII he was given civilian assignments both with the railroad and with Tinker Air Force Base.

Harold came to faith under his father’s preaching as a young man.  But in his early 30s, God got a hold of him.  He was a businessman working for Bordan's Milk.  He started getting serious about his faith.  Pastor Jay Badry, now with Golden Gate Seminary tells of his mother and aunt wanting to go to Falls Creek but unable to afford it.  A local businessman found out and quietly paid their way.  The businessman’s name was Harold Whitlock.

Not long after, attending FBC Moore under Pastor Warren Terry, he surrendered to ministry.  He sold his little farm, quit his job at Bordan, and started pastoring.  He pastored at Spencer, OK; Millwood Baptist OKC; FBC Newcastle; and later FBC Wayne.  He attended every SBC meeting from the late 50s through the mid 80s.  Around 1966-67, he was moved at the report at the SBC regarding the lostness of the northeast and was burdened for Ohio. Appointed as Home Missionaries with the Home Mission Board (now NAMB), Harold and Zelma moved to Ohio around 1968 to take a mission start, and he would grow the mission to a fully functioning church in Toledo. The church had a church bell between the building and the parsonage.  Whenever we arrived, day or night, after 24 hours of nonstop driving from Oklahoma to Toledo, we would announce our arrival to them by ringing the church bell.  I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled. And whatever the time, Grandma prepared bubble baths to clean us all up before sleeping in her clean sheets. . . .

He said he had always told God that if He wanted him to start a church with nothing out under a tree, he would be willing and that God began dealing with him about that. He found a city in Ohio that had no Baptist or evangelical church, Wauseon, moved there, bought a mobile home, and rented the YMCA every Sunday.  Each summer we’d visit.  Sundays we’d get up and pick up the trash and beer bottles out of the parking lot and gather for church.  I remember being there with only 2-3 other people in the beginning.  But Grandpa built the church by winning new converts to Christianity.  Over the years, the soul-winning efforts of Grandpa would result in an entire church full of people won to the Lord by his faithful witness.  I watched it grow into a strong church with its own facilities, Haven Heights Baptist Church, Wauseon.  Grandpa retired after a heart attack, but he later reentered the pastorate at FBC Sylvania, OH.  He pastored well past retirement years. They retired to Hinton, OK, and lived there many years before moving to assisted living in Moore, just a mile or so from dad, their only son.

Grandma was moved to full nursing care a year or so ago, but Grandpa didn’t like staying in the assisted living apartment without her, so he moved to the nursing facility and had the room next to her with a shared door.  He sat with her all day. 

Last time I visited them was so wonderful. She was lucid and visiting with folks.  Grandpa was joking and teasing as always, and when we took them back to the room, he had me lay her in his bed next to his recliner so they could hold hands while he watched television.  As I did, she whispered to me, “It just went by so fast.”

I have never known two people more in love.  Always holding hands.  Always kissing each other.  Unless they were playing cards or dominos.  Then they were brutally competitive.  They laughed more than any two people I’ve ever been around.  They loved playing games and traveling, making the annual SBC their vacation.  They always had an RV and would travel to the site and stay in a nearby campground.  They loved fishing together and talked often at how blessed they were to get to see the country and serve Jesus. 

I was never with them, never, that they didn’t share stories about God, and Bible stories and personal stories of God’s provisions.  Once, they were taken by an owner of a Piggly Wiggle grocery store and told by the owner to fill up their grocery basket for a blessing for their service.  They did so, but the owner guffawed that the basket wasn’t full enough and didn’t have enough from the butcher. Every time they would tell this story,, they would giggle about getting stuff they could never have afforded and how fun that was.  Another time, a suit shop owner insisted that Grandpa come to his shop for a new set of clothes.  And so forth and so on.  They saw Jesus behind every single blessing they experienced.

He loved Jesus!  And loved Zelma nearly as much.  He wasn’t perfect, and he had his flaws. Those of us who knew him best saw the flaws. I don't want to make him out to be beyond sin, but he was motivated by being made right with God.  All growing up he would tell Sherri, Terri, and me, “God has a plan for you!  I pray you understand this.  He has a plan for your life!”
When I was interviewing for the job at OBU I waited until a few weeks before the final stage before telling them, and swore them to secrecy.  After I signed the contract, I stepped back into the empty Gold Room at Geiger.  I made three calls; to mom and dad and the grandfolks.  I shared the news and they began to shout how happy they were that I was moving back to Oklahoma and working at OBU! Grandma shouted, “Can we tell someone?”

In many ways, that was their lives: telling other people the Good News!  Theirs is a love story.  For each other.  But it’s also a love story where two people fell in love with the Savior who died for them.
A few years ago, we were certain Grandpa was dying and at Integris, we were preparing to say our goodbyes.  He was in awful shape.  Then suddenly he rallied and did well.  He said after being discharged, “You know, I discovered why I had to go through that. One of the doctors who had treated me came in to visit me, and I witnessed to him and led him to faith in Jesus.”
Up in Bolivar, he went to Walmart and came back and told me, “David, here’s a name of a lady I met at WalMart, who I invited to your church, and told about Jesus.”  He had led her to faith in Jesus there. 

He told me once, “You know everyone who knows I preach is dead. So I don’t get invited anymore.  But God opens doors everywhere.  At WalMart, every checker asks, ‘How are you?’ And I reply, ‘I’m doing great. You know why? Because I was once lost in sin and Jesus died in my place, was crucified, buried, and rose again, defeating sin and death, and because I’ve placed my faith in Jesus, I have the promise of eternal life?’  You know, you can preach wherever you are.”

His and grandma's testimony is also one of the power of persistent prayer.  Evidenced by their own son coming to faith.  Evidenced by their grandchildren coming to faith.  You know how powerfully humbling and thrilling it is to realize that from the first moment you were on the radar, before even birth, someone had been praying for you year after year your entire life?  It’s incredible! 
Dana once said to them how wonderful that was for them to have prayed for me my whole life.  Their response: “Oh Dana, we’ve been praying for you since the day we we started praying for David.  We just didn't know your name yet.”

Oh that my sisters and I might repeat that same habitual practice; praying persistently day after day for our children, our grandchildren, our great and great great grandchildren and their spouses!
Grandpa on a few times told me of the day that would come when he would depart to his Heavenly Father, and that he would not leave riches or land or trust funds, but a legacy of faith.  He did indeed leave us a legacy of faith.  And we are the richest heirs in the world.

SERMON OUTLINE

A.    Brief Historical Overview of Passage:

                    i.            “For to me”:  A phrase emphasizing Paul’s personal reflection, consideration, and assessment of his own life in light of his current situation.

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  An assessment of the life that he lived with Christ, for the sake of Christ.

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  A reference to the great gain his death would bring

                iv.            **Verse 21 is an overall statement of his personal assessment of the kind of person he was to be, shaping and guiding the kind of life that he would live, and defining the nature of his death.

B.     The realities taught by Paul in Phil. 1:21 proved to be true for  Harold Whitlock:

                    i.            “For to me”: Harold’s ongoing assessment and renewal of living daily in his faith commitment to Christ

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  the life that Harold lived, radiating love for God and for others in faithful gospel ministry

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  the “for to me” moments, shaping and directing the “to live is Christ” life, culminates in the “to die is gain” reality; such was and is true for Harold Whitlock

C.     “The milestones, or markers, in life in which we celebrate and commemorate the life and death of a man life Harold Whitlock should never be wasted”:  the teachings of Phil. 1:21 for us today

                    i.            “For to me”:  this moment, this hour, is before us today is a “for to me” moment. As we remember the life-legacy of Harold Whitlock, and confronted by the truth of the word of God, each of us find ourselves at a “life marker,” a time for each of to consider, to contemplate, to wrestle with the reality, the quality, and the measure of our own lives.

1.      Have I embraced the person of Jesus the Messiah as Lord?  If not, then my life is not “to live is Christ,” and my death will not be a “to die is gain” kind of death.

2.      What is the Lord saying to me at this moment?  What significance does this “life marker” event of the passing of this dear saint God have for me today?  For the rest of my life?

                  ii.            “To live is Christ”:  This moment, this hour that is before us today, compels us to examine and give serious consideration, to the life that we live now, and the way we will live the remainder of our life in the time that God has appointed us to have.

1.      If I have embraced the Jesus and His gospel, what of my life?  What kind of person am I?  What kind of life am I living?

2.      Is my life one of a passionate pursuit of loving Jesus with the entirety of my being?  Is my “to live is Christ” a declaration that I treasure Jesus Christ supremely and absolutely above and before all things?  Is my “to live is Christ” a reflection of loving Jesus in real, actual, and overt expressions of loving others?  Is my “to live is Christ” a journey with Jesus on the “narrow way?”  Does my “to live is Christ” reflect a devotion of gospel service with eternal significance in the “mundane,” the regular flow of daily life?

                iii.            “To die is gain”:  The “for to me” moments of our lives shape us, mark us, and direct the “to live is Christ” realities of our life.  As was true for the apostle Paul, and certainly was true for Harold Emmett Whitlock, so is such also true for us:  “for to me” must move us through “to live is Christ,” and conclude with “to die is gain.”

                iv.            “We most honor Harold Whitlock and His Lord not only in this hour, but in the remainder of our lives, by “living for Christ” such that when our time on this earth ends, our passing will be “to die is gain.”


Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Legacy of Laughter and Faith



Bob Whitlock Memorial Service
March 3, 2016

To Peggy, Bob, Lee, to granddaughters and your husbands, Courtney and Lance, Anna Grace and Cody, and Miriam and Michael, and to the nine dearly loved great grandchildren, thank you for the honor of sharing today as we remember and celebrate the life of a husband, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, a father, a granddaddy, a Granddaddy Bob, and a Granny Bob.  And his life is indeed worth celebrating. 

But we begin by acknowledging that we hurt; there’s no getting around that.  Mourning is appropriate.  But when a follower of Jesus passes, grief is tempered by a greater hope and assurance of a better place of great celebration. Jesus defeated sin and death and all who believe in Him, there is the promise and reality of eternal life.  So even in the midst of sorrow, we remember a man whose life is worthy of celebrating.

As some of you know, when I prepare to preach a funeral for a believer, a passage from the Bible will come to the forefront of my thoughts.  Because he spent a career delivering mail, I thought of the passage in Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…of happiness.”

Certainly Bob Whitlock delivered his fair share of good news through the years. But then I thought of all the bills he delivered to people, and I thought Bob might rather I choose another scripture reference, and another Bible passage does remind me of Bob. It’s found in Genesis in the story of Jacob and his sons. 

You recall that the patriarch, Jacob (Israel) had a large family—thirteen children, twelve of them sons. His two youngest sons, Joseph and Benjamin, had a special bond.  Both born to Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin were favored by their father.  As father’s age, they became more patient and loving and appreciative of the sweetness of fatherhood.  My oldest son had quite a different experience growing up than did my youngest son. Such was the case with Jacob’s youngest sons, Joseph and Benjamin.

When Joseph was a young man, his older brothers envied him so much that they ended up selling him as a slave to Midianites who took him to Egypt.  Through extraordinary circumstances, Joseph came to the attention of Pharaoh, the most powerful man of the most powerful kingdom on earth, and he was placed as the king’s prime minister, in control of the entire Egyptian kingdom.

Joseph’s plan to store sufficient food supplies for the nation during a coming famine, not only saved Egypt, but surrounding nations and peoples as well. His actions and stewardship ended up saving from starvation his own father, Jacob, and the brothers who had wronged him so badly thirteen years earlier. When the brothers went to find food in Egypt, without Benjamin, for Jacob was afraid for his youngest son to go with them, they encounter their own brother Joseph.  He recognized them, but they believed he was long dead and so did not know it was Joseph who stood before them as ruler.

Without their realizing, Joseph tested his brothers to see if they were trustworthy and to know whether they had repented and changed.  Following a series of tests, they return again this time with their brother Benjamin as he had insisted they do.  The tests Joseph put them through convinced him of their change, and we read of a meal they had with him just before he revealed himself to them. You’ll notice too that the brothers knew something was up when they were seated in birth order as they ate and that Benjamin was given extra portions during the meal.

We read in Genesis 43:26-34:  26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

Afterwards, in one of the most heart-rending, wonderful stories of the Bible, Joseph reveals himself and all the brothers weep and rejoice, and especially did Joseph weep on the neck of his little brother Benjamin. 

Most often, this story focuses on Joseph, but take a look for just a second at Benjamin.  There are a few points worth noting.  First, it is safe to say, that among the entire family of Jacob, there was a favorite, Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob. Babies of the family often find themselves the favorites.  In research on birth order, youngest children are often the most gregarious, the ones who entertain and keep the rest of the family smiling and laughing.

That may have been true of Benjamin.  We do know that he was particularly close to his next older brother.  As the youngest, they spent their early years playing together, with Joseph no doubt his trusted confidante. Benjamin, as one of the sons of Jacob—of Israel—became leader of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Benjamites were known for their skills as warriors; they were famously gifted as archers with bow and arrow, and for their accuracy with slingshots. 

And a few the descendants of Benjamin are worth noting.  The first King of Israel was a Benjamite, a direct descendent named Saul. Mordecai and Esther were both Benjamites. The entire Jewish nation was saved by the strategy of Mordecai and Esther. And of course, another of Benjamin’s descendants was the prolific author and missionary named Saul of Tarsus, known as the Apostle Paul, who by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians, Philippians, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy and Titus.  Some theorize more, but we know he penned those thirteen books of the Bible.

From the Bible’s account, we know that Benjamin was dearly loved by his family—perhaps the favorite. We know that Benjamin lived a life of consequence and left a legacy worthy of celebrating.  That legacy included descendants who were used mightily by God, both in defense of God’s people and in spreading the Gospel of Jesus. To be a Benjamite, according to Paul, was reason enough for honor.

And so it is with Robert T. Whitlock, Sr., named for his grandfather—A.F. Whitlock’s father—Robert Whitlock, himself a soldier in the 7th Tennessee Infantry, who not only survived the terrible battle at Gettysburg, but also fought and stood alongside Lee at Appomattox. 

Bob was the youngest born to his father and mother, He was one of the four little ones or younger ones in the family. He was especially close to his next older brother Harold, my grandpa.  As I understand, and as it was a necessity in a family of eleven children, each new child born was assigned to one of the other children for care. Harold was assigned to Bob.  I’ve heard stories that when Bob was little and would scrape a knee or cry for someone, it was usually for his brother, Harold.

As his namesake had two generations before, Bob was a soldier. Just a teenager when drafted during WWII. He trained for two months then sent into the battle theater first in North Africa then in Italy serving in the 5th Army, 91st Infantry Division, and fighting in terrible battles I never heard him mention. His awards and decorations include EAME Theater Ribbon, three Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Purple Heart, World War II Victory Ribbon, Distinguished Unit Badge.  I mentioned that Benjamin’s descendant were gifted as archers and slingers, Bob earned the Sharpshooter rifle badge. During his time in the war, he was wounded three times, airlifted to an Army hospital in Rome, then shipped back to the front each time. If not for Bob Whitlock and the countless others whose lives were put on the line to protect us, we might not be standing here right now, speaking English and enjoying any of the freedoms we have.

Though he had seen so much carnage and suffering by the time he was only 21, though he carried shrapnel in his body the rest of his life, he was the kindest, funniest man you’ll ever meet. Cheerful. Quick-witted. Smiling. Laughing.  Dearly loved by his family, I dare to say, he was many of the family’s favorite.  While all of the Whitlocks have a deep appreciation for story-telling and teasing, Bob was certainly one you could count on to enjoy a good laugh. 
Because of the relationship of my grandpa and Bob, I grew up closer to Bob and Peggy than nearly anyone else in the Whitlock clan. Many of my fondest memories are with them in Ponca, or on camping trips to Cedar Point in Ohio, on their farm in Fletcher, on our farm in Wayne.  And always, always, there was laughter. 

The most innocuous things would result in laughter.  When Bob and Peggy visited us in Missouri, during our years there, they came over for dinner, Dana had made a wonderful meal that began with a salad.  She had the fixings there on the table and dished out bowls of lettuce including Romain, iceburg, and mixed greens.  There was her homemade poppyseed dressing, small mandarin oranges, sliced almonds, the works. 

We began building our salads and passing the goodies and Bob just kept watching us and then putting on the next item passed to him to do it just like Dana had done on hers.  When she dished out the mandarin oranges on her salad and passed them to Bob, he looked at her and started snickering and said, “Really, little oranges on the salad?  Well, this is a fancy salad.”  We all started laughing and as he ate his salad he just giggled and snorted and the whole lot of us kept giggling all the way through dinner, for why I don’t know.  It was just fun being with Uncle Bob.

I remember that sometime in the middle or late 1970s, we had gathered, like every year I could remember, at Bircha’s and Kenneth’s house in Fletcher for Christmas. Great Grandaddy, nearly blind by this point, was seated on the couch. I watched from across the room as a parade of famiy and his own children sat next to him and took turns visiting the old preacher in this three-piece suit.

I saw Uncle Frank take a box and sit down next to Granddaddy and opened it.  Inside was a fedora.  Plaid.  He tried it on and thanked Frank for the Christmas gift.  I saw him wear it countless times over the years. Frank made a point of telling him, “Papa, the hat is from Lillian and Frank.”  He repeated that two or three times and Grandaddy assured him he understood and thanked him again.

Then about ten minutes later, I saw Uncle Bob go sit next to Grandaddy and start visiting.  Bob asked him, “Papa, do you like your new hat that Peggy and I got you?” 

“I thought that was from Frank and Lillian.”

“No, no.  I told you, the hat is from me and Peggy.” 

To tell the truth, I still don’t know whether Frank or Bob either one actually bought him the hat.

Peggy, when you and Bob Whitlock met and married, you got a fun-loving man, a good man who was loved by a wide swath of people, and a man who could laugh.  Nearly 70 years of marriage is no small accomplishment, especially to a Whitlock. You’ve set a great example for us. A good measure of a man is what his wife says about him, when he’s not around and able to defend himself.  Listen to how Peggy describes Bob. “He was a great husband and provider, a strict father, but good and fair daddy, a great lover, a darling, and friend.” 

As a postal office worker in Ponca, is it any surprise his window was the favorite?  His line was longer than any because people wanted to do their business with him.  Peggy described him as the “darling of the post office.”

As a grandpa, he was fun too.  Listen to his granddaughters talk about their Grandaddy, their Granny Bob and memories of simple days, horse trough swimming, fishing, hunting, four-wheelers, burn piles, and hay bale jumping. The granddaughters wrote the following:

“Granddaddy didn't talk too much. Most of our memories with him are photographs and videos of the things we did with him.  Most of them summer sun bleached with him in his straw hat and open button down shirt, the long socks drawn up to full height saluting the khaki shorts. His sweaty chest was a nice place to lounge after he'd been working in the garden. Reaching a hand into his shirt pocket and pulling out candy. Swimming in the horse trough on the ample front porch, or riding bikes in circles for hours while he sat contentedly, just watching.  His old pickup, dusty and smelling like straw and oil; riding somewhere with the windows down. Always going somewhere to show us something. Courtney wandering among the countless mysterious jars in the barn,  delighted to be brought along for even a mundane errand such as this.  His sure hands cleaning a fish from the pond.  Anna even remembers once taking a cow to the vet with him, because he wanted her there.  On hands and knees sliding past my hiding spot during a rousing game of peep-eye! The serene black and whites of porch sitting and cracking pecans, the McDonalds drive thru, riding on the hay bale spike behind the tractor, our feet dangling over the gravel road. We were prized possessions, we grand-girls. The gentle way he woke us when we spent the night--his hand making a soothing circle between our shoulder blades while the smell of eggs and bacon and biscuits streamed through the open door. He delighted in us--and every piece of candy, every childlike smile, every bowl of popcorn happily served imprinted this like a stamp on our nature. This is how girls are to be treated, he showed us, but never told--and we knew we were precious.”

Like Benjamin left a legacy for his descendants who did great things with their lives, so has Bob left a legacy for his family. Courtney, Anna Grace, Miriam, you and your children inherit a noble legacy. Tell them that we expect great things from Asher, Jackson, Avery, Gracilyn, Samuel, Liam, Lucy Jewel, Cecilia, and Jude Whitlock.  I expect them and the grandchildren after them to make a difference in the world, for the Kingdom of God, and for the cause of Christ. 

Bob lived out the last years of his life at the VA Nursing Center in Lawton in the Green Wing.  Do you know how the caretakers there described Bob?  As “the darling of the Green Wing.”  He was a favorite of the staff.  Over the last few years, when I dropped in to see him, I always stopped first and bought a few chocolate bars. It’s a Whitlock thing.  The last time I saw him, I hugged his neck, stood and said goodbye.  But he motioned me back.  Though his voice was weak, he pulled me in close and whispered, “Hey David.  Before you go… Would you go ahead and unwrap that candy bar for me so I can eat it?”

Life is brief.  The Bible calls it but a breath. For most of us, the end seems to come sooner than n we imagine, whether we are young or even 91 years or more.  So it is important that we take this opportunity to acknowledge that what really matters is whether we are prepared for the eternity that is beyond this short span we have here.  What matters is whether we are prepared to meet our Maker? 

Bob made a profession of faith as a young boy.  If we believe that Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead, if we turn away from our past disobedience to God and His Word, and place our faith in Jesus, we can live confidently.  And we can die confidently, knowing that this physical death is a mere doorway to eternal life.

Today we mourn, but not as those without hope. Because faith in Jesus changes everything.  Jesus explained His own impending death to his disciples encouraging them in John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you will be also.”

Just a few days ago, Bob opened his eyes and beheld a place that is breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful, and filled with joy. I can’t help but believe he began laughing with joy as he entered the presence of King Jesus. I can even imagine the look on his face as he caught his first glimpse of his beloved daughter.  The family wisely did not grieve him with her death this summer.So I can picture him spotting her and shouting, “Goodness, Janet! What are you doing here?”  What a time he is having. What a reunion he is enjoying. Amen.