The Privilege of Bible Study

by Tom Wacaster

With the New Year now just around the corner, I am doing my best to put into practice some of those things that I deem important and which, as per my new year resolutions, will make for a better year. I have always considered myself blessed in that I get to spend an abundance of time each week in a study of God's word. Words simply cannot express the appreciation I have for this opportunity. I was once asked how much time I would spend in study were I not preaching on a full time basis. Just over eight years ago I had just such an opportunity to experience a return to "secular" work and preach "on the side" as we are wont to say. So I can address that question from personal experience.  Admittedly I did not have the same amount of time that was available in the capacity of supported local work, but I made every effort to keep up my studies during those months of secular work. I learned some important lessons during those months.

First, I learned that one has to make time for study. There are a lot of things that will crowd out your own personal study time if allowed to do so. Each child of God must determine that he will not allow this aspect of his spiritual life to go unattended. A hundred years from now it will not matter whether you let that lawn go un-mowed. You can catch up on your book keeping at a later hour. But once study is neglected you rob yourself of that daily dosage of spiritual nutrition that keeps you going for the next day. If you are going to study you must make the time for study. If study is not placed at the top of your list of daily activities, the chances are you will find your time with God's word crowded out by those things that may seem important at the moment, but which really pale in significance to your study of God's word.

Second, I came to appreciate the power of accumulative study. You don't need to conquer a book of the Bible in one evening, or even one week. A few months back someone asked me where I found the time to write and publish five books in less than three years. The fact is, I did not write those books in three years. I have been writing on those books for more than 20 years. A number of years ago I read of a seventh grader who was asked how he went about studying the Bible. He said, "I read ten chapters a night in the Bible and one chapter in the commentary." Most folks read 150 to 200 words per minute. If you spent thirty minutes a day you could easily read through the entire Bible twice in one year (with approximately 2 months to spare). Spend an additional three hours per week (half an hour each day for six days) in study and you could read approximately 1560 pages in good, sound commentaries and/or Bible helps. Over a period of time you will be somewhat astonished at the amount of material you have studied.

Third, I came to realize the importance of application of the word to my life. Secular work, by its very nature, puts the child of God into contact with non-Christians. Since Satan is described as a "roaring lion...seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8), it only makes sense that the application of the word to one's life is essential to the utilization of our study of the word.

Fourth, and closely akin to the previous, I learned that it is important to read and study for the right reason. Our aim in Bible study should be to come to a knowledge of the truth and better our life here on earth and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. The following appeared in the 1919 Abilene College Lectures:

'Tis one thing, friend, to read the Bible through;
Another thing to read, to learn, to do.
'Tis one thing, too, to read it with delight,
And quite another thing to read it right.

Some read it with design to learn to read,
But to the subject pay but little heed;
Some read it as their duty once a week,
But no instruction from the Bible seek.

Some read to bring themselves into repute
By showing others how they can dispute;
While others read because their neighbors do,
To see how long 'twill take to read it through.

Some read the blessed Book, they know not why,
It sometimes happens in the way to lie;
While others read it with uncommon care;
But all to find some contradiction there.

One reads with father's 'specs' upon his head,
And sees the things just as his father did;
Another reads through Campbell, Stone and Scott,
And thinks it meant just what they thought.

Some read to prove a pre-adopted creed,
Thus, understanding little what they read;
And every passage in the Book they bend
To make it suit that all-important end.

Some people read, as I have often thought,
To teach the Book instead of being taught.
How readest thou?

Finally, I came to appreciate even more the privilege of study itself. During those months of secular work I would, more often than not, be the one who turned off the lights, locked up the doors, and secured the office until the next morning. I was then free to pursue my own desires. How grateful I was, and still am, that there were no laws that forbade my study of God's word. In our country the Bible is still the best seller. The religious section in book stores remains active. In our country, men can write, read, and teach anything they want when it comes to religion. But the man who does not take advantage of this wonderful privilege to pursue a knowledge of the truth is no better off than the atheist and agnostic who has no desire to read and study that Sacred Book of books. Attitude plays an important part in the development of behavior. Perhaps if we acquire a greater appreciation for the privilege of study our study habits themselves will improve dramatically. Let’s make every year a year of thanksgiving for the privilege of study.

Mahershalalhashbaz: God's Sign To A Sinful Nation

by Tom Wacaster

Don't let the name scare you.  Punctuation marks help us get the right pronunciation:  "Ma-her-shal-al-hash-baz."  But the name meant something: "Hastens to the prey."    Here is the setting.  When Tiglath-pileser III took control of Assyria, he immediately made his bid for world domination.  His westward movement struck fear in Syria and Israel [keep in mind that this was during the time of the divided kingdom, hence Israel, the Northern Kingdom].  With a common enemy in mind, Israel and Syria sought alliance, and then sought to bring Judah into that alliance.  Ahaz is on the throne in Judah and Pekah in Israel. Ahaz feigns piety and loyalty to God, but despite the warning from the prophet Isaiah, this weak and wavering king sets his sight, not on God, but on worldly alliance with the apostate Israel and the heathen nation of Syria.  Apparently the people love Ahaz's intentions, and so Isaiah gives the people a sign in two parts.  Before his son is ever born, the prophet posts the words in a public location, leaving the people to read and study for themselves.  When Isaiah's son is born, he is instructed to give him this most significant name: "Mahershalalhashbaz," the very words publicly posted months before the child was ever born.    Syria and Israel would be destroyed, and Assyria would turn toward Judah, and the people of God would suffer utter defeat.  Assyria was "hastening to the prey."    This brings us to Isaiah 8:11, where God speaks to the prophet with a "strong hand," and warns the prophet not to walk in the way of the people.   Don't make a confederacy (8:12), don't be afraid of their fear, sanctify God, and let Him be your fear and dread (8:13).  Herein lay the fault of the people and their king.  They would not listen to the prophets.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, faithful proclaimers of God's word, were treated as traitors and trouble makers.  Some of these faithful prophets of old paid dearly for their faithful proclamation of God's word.  But alas, their message fell on deaf ears.  Rather than fear God, they feared the nation of Assyria.  Rather than trust God, they placed their trust in a heathen nation, and followed in the footsteps of their apostate brethren in the Northern Kingdom.  

Is there a lesson for us here?  Oh, indeed there is.  The Lord's kingdom is splintered and divided.  Rather than trust in God and His Word, some have abandoned the old paths for an alliance with the denominations.  Hand in hand with spiritual heathens,  they march forward toward a presumed victory that shall only end in utter defeat.  Those who still preach the old Jerusalem gospel are pressured on every side to join them in their unholy alliance with other religious groups to defeat the onslaught of Satan.  Sadly some, under the leadership of weak and wavering elders, capitulate. Thanks be to our God, there are still faithful preachers and proclaimers of God's word.  But as in the days of old, the divine instructions have not been heeded, and God's people once again find themselves in the throws of a major apostasy.  Rather than listen to the word, too many capitulate.  Those who call for the old paths, are despised and labeled as traitors and trouble makers.   Edward Young has noted, "Throughout the history of the church, those who have sought to call the church back to her God-given mission and away from her man-made 'programs' have been treated as troublemakers."   But the message is still, "Mahershalalhashbaz"!!   There is a judgment coming, and God's wrath is "hastening to the prey." 

America Gets An 'F' In Religion

by Tom Wacaster
  
A recent article in the U.S. News (April 9, 2007) reported that in America, we get an "F" in religion. Jay Tolson reported that "roughly 9 in 10" of our citizens believe in God, or a Supreme Being. In fact, America is widely acknowledged to be the "most religious of modern industrialized nations." Yet, when it comes to knowledge ABOUT religion, it ranks among the most ill- informed in the Western world. Mr. Tolson pointed out, that "while close to two thirds of Americans regard the Bible as a source of answers to life's questions, only half can name even one of the New Testament Gospels."

The present generation has simply lost its connection to the word of God. History will attest to the fact that the Bible was the first "reader" of the colonists and early Americans, so much so that when they learned to read, they read from the Bible. Early American's conducted many of their most important civic debates, including the debate over slavery, in Biblical terms evoking Biblical principles for decisions in matters of right and wrong on such issues. Churches, schools, households, colleges and tract societies linked social life to the principles of morality set forth in the Bible. Like a giant "chain" that holds the ship to the anchor, the word of God provided a link to social stability and moral direction. But that chain was broken in the 1960's by secularists and since that time the ship has drifted further and further from its moorings. Like so many falling dominoes, we began to see the destabilization of the world in which we live. Supreme Court rulings outlawed Bible reading and prayers in our public schools. The Bible slowly became what Tolson called "a kind of ornament and a source of authority rather than a book that you actually read." Over the past four decades sermons have become more about ordinary life and less about Biblical narratives, and Sunday schools focused more on morality than on the book that taught that morality.  The great paradox is that, while we were becoming less knowledgeable about the basic facts of the gospel, our nation was becoming more evangelical. The "Puritanism" of the 18th and 19th centuries gave way to evangelical impulse in the 20th century. The mind set where we focused not only upon the heart, but upon the head as the means of religious learning and practice slowly gave way to a type of thinking where experience and emotion became the predominant force in our religion. Slowly, ever so slowly, Americans turned away from learning the facts of the Bible to expressing themselves in terms of subjective and emotional feelings. The consequence has taught us that we do, indeed, reap what we sow.  The fruit of our failing grade in religion is now coming to harvest. Abortion, homosexuality, gambling, drunkenness, rebellious children, filthy language, failed marriages, pornography, increased crime rates, ungodly and immoral leaders (and citizens) all combine to show that America is no longer a "Christian nation." She shed that honorable designation at least four decades ago, if not in terminology, at least in practice.

I am not so pessimistic as to think that the direction can be reversed, but history is against us. Unless God's people let their voices be heard and their lives be exemplary, this nation of 50 United States will continue to receive a failing grade in religion. And the consequences are too horrible to even imagine.

Being Honest In A Dishonest World

by Tom Wacaster
  
In a world of "dog eat dog, take care of number one," honesty and integrity are rare. I recently came across the following statistics:  "In a recent year, according to the FBI crime report, 13,200,080 crimes were reported in the United States [did you get that number, TW].  Ninety percent of these involved property and included such crimes as burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.  The National Coalition to Prevent Shoplifting says this crime now amounts to $24 billion annually.  Employee thefts amount to another $22 billion.  Tax cheating, according to the IRS, is big business in our nation. Auditing of nearly 2 million returns in a recent year showed derelict tax payers owed $10.5 billion.  For a dozen years we have had 1 million divorces annually. Infidelity, marital dishonesty, has been given as the number one reason for marital breakups in our family troubled land."   Those are frightening statistics!  On every hand we are faced with those who are dishonest.  It has become a way of life.  But God's call is to maintain honesty and integrity.  "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17). "That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without" (1 Thess. 4:12).  "Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Cor 8:21).

Having survived another political campaign season, it is refreshing not to have to endure the seeming endless array of political campaign ads either accusing or excusing the political candidates of dishonesty, lying, fraud, et al.  One interesting quote I came across this last year had to do with a prominent politically active couple.   A renowned newspaper columnist observed: "We know that the Clintons are liars. But what scares me is that they do it so well."   If the truth were known, it is not just politicians and used car dealers whose "reputation" precedes them; according to the above statistical information dishonesty has infected our populace from the head to the foot.   And now that the next President, Vice President, Congress and House of Representatives are in place and soon to be inaugurated or initiated into office, we hold our breath in anticipation of what "scandal" will rock Washington next.  It has almost become a way of life, and a sad one at that. 

Major William Dean died in 1985. He was a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and was considered one of American's greatest heroes.  He fought in the Korean war and was captured and tortured. Dean resisted all efforts by the communists to extract military information from him. In order to maintain his sanity he would resort to mind games, or reciting passages from the Bible.  One day the general was informed by his captors that he was to be taken out and shot.  A firing squad was standing in readiness.  The condemned was granted a few moments in which to write a letter to his wife.  He penned what he thought would be his last words. In addition to the words of love and devotion to his wife, he wrote a sentence for his son.  "Tell Bill the word is 'integrity.'"   There are two passages that I want to leave with you. "Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity than he that is perverse in his lips and is a fool" (Proverbs 19:1).  "Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle?  Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh truth in his heart" (Psalms 15:1-2).

Because of This One Man

by Tom Wacaster
  
Many a tribute has been paid to Jesus of Nazareth. “Believers and mockers, skeptics and saints, the mighty and the humble; all have testified to the fact that this Man among men was more than a man.” Those who are diligent students of the Bible see in the pages of that inspired book a portrait of One Who was (and is) the epitome of selfless service and supreme sacrifice. Those who refuse to hear the Word of God cannot deny that the life of this One man made an impact upon the world that continues to be felt more than two centuries later. The ministry of Jesus lasted only three years. Yet in those three years we find condensed the deepest meaning of history and a manifestation of God “come in the flesh.” The impact He made upon history for generations yet unborn is summed up in His own words: “If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto myself” (Jn 12:32). He chose twelve apostles, not from among the scholars, or from among the leaders of the elite religious hierarchy, but from the common masses. With no possessions to call His own, and no friends among the mighty and rich, He associated with sinners and publicans - not to stoop to their sinful life, but to raise them up to a higher and nobler life. When zealots sought to make Him their king, He withdrew and boldly declared that His kingdom was not of this world. He was an encouragement to the down-trodden, a teacher of those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, a Great Physician to those who suffered from bodily ailments that robbed them of their strength and hope. He was kind and compassionate to those who sought His wisdom; and He was stern and straightforward toward those who were determined not to come to the light. He provided unmistakable proof that He was from God by the miracles He performed. Prompted by compassion for those who suffered, He demonstrated the power of God to overcome physical ailments so that men could see in Him the same power to overcome the spiritual ailments. His miracles were performed without ostentation and served to demonstrate the authority of His words. His life was so holy that He could face His accusers and ask, “Which of you convinceth me of sin,” knowing that they could find no occasion of stumbling in Him. Philip Schaff commented on the pure and sinless life of Jesus Christ:

“Who would not shrink from the attempt to describe the moral character of Jesus, or, having attempted it, be not dissatisfied with the result? Who can empty the ocean into a bucket? Who (we may ask with Lavater) can paint the glory of the rising sun with a charcoal. No artist’s ideal comes up to the reality in this case, though his ideals may surpass every other reality. The better and holier a man is, the more he feels his need of pardon, and how far he falls short of his own imperfect standard of excellence. But Jesus, with the same nature as ours and tempted as we are, never yielded to temptation; never had cause for regretting any thought, word, or action; he never needed pardon, or conversion, or reform; he never fell out of harmony with his heavenly Father. His whole life was one unbroken act of self-consecration to the glory of God and the eternal welfare of his fellow-men. A catalogue of virtues and graces, however complete, would give us but a mechanical view. It is the spotless purity and sinlessness of Jesus as acknowledged by friend and foe; it  is the even harmony and symmetry of all graces, of love to God and love to man, of dignity and humility of strength and tenderness, of greatness and simplicity, of self-control and submission, of active and passive virtue; it is, in one word, the absolute perfection which raises his character high above the reach of all other men and makes it an exception to a universal rule, a moral miracle in history. It is idle to institute comparisons with saints and sages, ancient or modern. Even the infidel Rousseau was forced to exclaim: ‘If Socrates  lived and died like a sage, Jesus lived and died like a God.’ Here is more than the starry heaven above us, and the moral law within us, which filled the soul of Kant with ever-growing reverence and awe. Here is the holy of holies of humanity, here is the very gate of heaven” (Schaff, History of the Church).

Every great story has a tragedy that unfolds in its plot, along with the triumph of the main character. The history of Jesus is not a myth; it is not a novel; nor is it something written for mere entertainment. But the story of Jesus provides the ultimate tragedy and triumph. As God’s mystery unfolded in that little, isolated, insignificant country, Jesus began to tell of His death. But His was not a natural death, for He died the shameful death of the cross, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty. So horrible was the death of the sinless  Savior that the sun refused to shine at noon, and the earth shook as its Maker finally gave up the ghost. When He was laid in the tomb, the hopes of His disciples were dashed. An immense stone to seal the tomb, and a powerful Roman legion to guard its entrance, those  fishermen returned to their fishing business, their dreams and expectations buried in the tomb with the Man Who walked and talked in their midst for three and one half years. Meanwhile, as the guest of Paradise, Jesus awaited that moment when He would roll back the stone that blocked the exit from that cold dark tomb, and come forth Conqueror over death and the grave. On the third day, He burst the bonds of death. God turned the tragedy into triumph. Today men can have a renewed hope because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angels in heaven rejoiced at His birth. Men can rejoice today because of His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father.

Divinely Sanctioned Division

by Tom Wacaster

I was rummaging through my files on “unity” and “division,” and came across an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News just over three years ago.  The title of the article was "Church alliance proposed."  I'll share with you the lead in statement: "The National Council of Churches is going to try to form a new organization that would for the first time include all major branches of U.S. Christianity, its board decided today."   This new organization is supposed to "give birth to a new ecumenical future."  I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but I can assure you that this effort is doomed to failure.  Five hundred years have proven that all such "ecumenical" efforts that have their basis in human wisdom do not produce unity.  Unity can only come by compliance to the word of God.  This "birth to a new ecumenical future" is based upon compromise, not humble submission to God and His will.  The best that can be expected is a loose form of unity that agrees to disagree.  It is just another step in an effort on the part of foolish men to erect a "tower of Babel" that will compete with God's plan.  When will men learn that there is a far cry difference between unity and union.  Someone once said that you can tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a closeline. You may have "union," but you will not have "unity."    Unfortunately some of our own brethren need to learn this lesson.  Attempts to join hands with the denominations is futile, not to mention out of harmony with God's word.  Paul instructed us: "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).   Why is that admonition so hard to understand?  "No fellowship" means "no fellowship."  Actually, I don't think it is a problem with understanding Paul's instructions.  It has, rather, to do with willingness to obey that simple injunction.  Fellowship with the denominations is sinful. 

But let me address another grievous error that is destroying the body of Christ from within. I think you will appreciate what I have to say if I lay some background.  The following incidents are representative of the wrong attitude and the right attitude in addressing this horrible injustice being perpetrated upon the bride of Christ.  The first incident concerns a congregation with which I am personally acquainted that has, through the years, struggled with the liberal tendencies that all of us have faced since the early 70’s.  That congregation suffered a horrible split a little over a decade ago.  The “liberal element” packed their bags and went elsewhere.  One would think, therefore, that their problems were behind them and the future would be bright.  But due to a lack of proper leadership they began to drift down the same old path until they are once again plagued with the push for change by certain elements within the congregation.  Some concerned brethren have shared with me their sorrow and dismay in what seems another inevitable drift (more like a plunge) into liberalism.  When I was asked what might be done, I simply told them, “Its time to walk away and start another congregation.”  The response I received from such a suggestion?  “Well, we hate the idea of splitting the Lord’s church.”  The second incident has to do with a congregation just southeast of Dallas, Texas that had reached the state of complete rebellion against God and His pattern for worship.  The story is shocking, but not surprising.  Elders upheld error, calling good evil, and evil good.  Here was a congregation well known for its zeal, dedication, and evangelistic spirit, that had in the space of five or six years moved so far away from the truth that one wonders why they simply did not pull the sign off the building and replace it with some denominational title to their liking.  But once again, there were members who had built that congregation; members who had sacrificed their time and finances to build a shining light in this little central Texas city.  Here were men and women who hated sin and hated what it had done to the body of Christ.  When things had become so intolerable they decided that it was time to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).  They recognized the undeniable truth that faithfulness to the Lord is not faithfulness to some physical plant, but to the word that our Lord gave to us.  Consequently those faithful brethren who loved the truth decided it was time to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11), and established a new congregation dedicated to doing all things according to the pattern revealed in God’s word.

 There is a false notion that division, any division, is wrong.   Some have the mistaken idea that brethren simply must tolerate error and put up with the false teachers, unqualified elders, and blasphemous and vain worship that is occurring and simply “love” one another regardless of how far they might move away from the truth of God’s word.  We must not forget that Jesus warned His disciples, "Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34).  Consequently, they, like those in the first incident to which I refer, complain and moan about what is happening in the Lord’s church (as they should do).   But that is about as far as it goes.  They continue to tolerate the error, contribute to the work of that congregation, and wring their hands in utter despair at what is happening.  On the other hand there are those who, thankfully, are willing to walk away from error.  They are not committed to property, parent, or patrons, but to the Savior Who shed His precious blood to build His church. 

I once preached for the church that now tolerates error.  In fact I worked with them in one capacity or another for more than half a decade.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to preach for that new church that walked away from error and, against the “advice” of their friends and family, started a faithful congregation of God’s people.  My heart ached as I listened to the sad plight of that once faithful congregation, but I rejoiced in knowing that there are still “7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  Now meeting in the local high school, with determination and zeal, they are prepared to march forward for the cause of Christ.  May their number increase.  Yes, beloved, there IS such a thing as Divinely sanctioned division.  

The Demise of Dependability

by Tom Wacaster

The Proverb writer tells us that "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint" (Proverbs 25:19). A farmer in Tupelo, Oklahoma used to say, "If I had my 'druthers' I think I would prefer A over B." Given a choice between a broken tooth and a foot out of joint, my ‘druther’ would be neither.

It is a shock to our system when someone upon whom we depend does not follow through on his promise, whether stated or implied. Maybe it is the age in which we live. Lawyers and legal jargon have made it difficult to state our position clearly, and contracts have hidden phrases and clauses which actually negate the whole purpose of the intended contract in the first place. Perhaps it is the wide spread acceptance of relativism that has brought about the demise of dependability. Young minds are taught there is no absolute truth, that it all depends upon how you "define terms." When asked to provide a simple meaning of the word "is," former President William Jefferson Clinton told us, "It depends on what the meaning of the word is, is. If it means is, and never has been, that's one thing. If it means, there is none, that was a completely true statement." When the President of the United States of America has a difficult time defining "is," how can we expect uneducated and impressionable minds to do any better? Without a clear and definitive goal, and a reliable means to reach that goal, most of humanity will slip into the quagmire of immorality and irresponsibility. It is a simple fact that neither an individual nor a nation can long survive in the absence of such noble qualities as integrity, honesty, and dependability. It is also a fact that the demise of dependability will eventually lead to the death of a nation.

But what shocks this scribe is the same demise of dependability among those who are supposed to be children of God. Where is the child of God who so humbly declared allegiance to Jesus Christ when we witnessed his baptism into the body? Where are those once active members who have retired from their jobs and subsequently retired from active participation in the church? What has happened to the desire to travel the road to heaven? to maintain distinctiveness for the Master? to further the cause of Christ in the local congregation? Why is it when members are asked to jump in and lend a helping hand that the better part of the congregation sits in silence? "Let someone else do it," comes the cry. Consequently, "Nobody" heads the list of most signup sheets posted in congregational foyers. Perhaps I am a little naive, but it seems to me that when we enlisted in the Lord's army that we volunteered to forego ALL for the sake of the CAUSE! When someone misses services, or refuses to support the work of the local congregation for selfish purposes, we are witnessing the demise of dependability. Indifference to the furtherance of the soul-saving Gospel is just one more nail in the coffin, and the demise of dependability is almost complete.

Brethren, there is no nation in history that has survived the internal loss of those basic and necessary traits of honesty, integrity, and dependability. The same can be said of congregations that fail to follow through on the promises made to Jesus Christ. And if I read my Bible clear, those congregations and individuals that neglect accepting and fulfilling responsibility are spiritually dead in the sight of God. We are witnessing the demise of dependability all around us. Let’s not let it creep into the church as well!!