The Bible, God's Precious Gift To Us

by Tom Wacaster

I recently obtained a copy of the Ninth Annual Shenandoah Lectures, entitled "A Handbook on Bible Translation."  It is a veritable 'gold-mine' of information pertaining to translation methods, with a review of some of the modern English translations now on the market.  There is also information on the Bible itself, with lessons on the subject of inspiration, the reliability of the Bible, and the indestructible nature of God's word.  It is comforting to know that our God is in control of all things, and that He can, and does, preserve His word.  Through Peter our God  has resassured us that His word will "live and abide forever" (1 Pet. 1:22-24).  Among other things of interest in the lectureship book, was this tribute that Henry VanDyke wrote, perhaps the most noble words ever ascribed to the Bible. I share them with you:  "Born in the East and clothed in Oriental form and imagery, the Bible walks the ways of all the world with familiar feet and enters land after land to find its  own everywhere.  It has learned to speak in hundreds of languages to the heart of man.  Children listen to its stories with wonder and delight, and wise men ponder them as parables of life.  The wicked and proud tremble at its warnings, but to the wounded and penitent it has a mother's voice.  It has woven itself into our dearest dreams; so that love, sympathy, devotion, memory, and hope put on the beautiful garments of its treasured speech.  No man is poor or desolate who  has this treasure for his own.  When the landscape darkens, and the trembling pilgrim comes to the valley of the shadow, he is not afraid to enter; he takes the rod and staff of scripture in his hand; he says to friend and comrade, 'Goodbye; we shall meet again'; and, confronted by that support, he goes toward the lonely pass as one who walks through darkness to light" (Lectureship book, page 246-247).

How grateful we should be for the precious word of God.  We should read and study it as a hungry man longs for food, or a thirsty man for water to sooth his dry, parched lips.  Here is the manna for our soul, the light for our path, and the strength for the hour.  Do not neglect it, for it will judge you in the last day. 

Arrivals And Departures

by Tom Wacaster

It was late Friday afternoon, and I was tired and exhausted from a sleepless night before I ever began this journey, followed by a long ten hour flight from Moscow to JFK airport in New York.  In spite of the fact that we made good time from Moscow and arrived almost an hour early in New York, I was still facing a five and a half hour lay over before catching the last leg of my journey from the “Big Apple” to Dallas.   With time to kill, I tried to amuse myself by “window shopping” in the airport shops, reading, and even trying to catch a cat nap in a futile effort to alleviate the groggy feeling that naturally comes with traveling so far, so fast in our modern day jets (they call it “jet lag” – the effect on the body where you biological clock says it is later than you think).   I am always amazed that the people would spend their hard earned money to purchase T-shirts, electronic gadgets, and even leather goods from those little shops in an international airport.  The prices are always higher than at the most expensive malls, and if something goes wrong with the item you purchased you have no recourse to make amends with the dealer (unless, of course, you stand ready to purchase another airline ticket to some far off destination in order that you can “pass through” the same airport and take care of any complaint you might have).   

After clearing customs and catching the escalator to the upper floor where you enter the terminal for connecting flights a passenger can obtain information by consulting the “big board” (as some are wont to call it) for arrivals and departures.  Other than the airport employees, security personal, and shop owners, every person in that terminal had an interest in the information on that board, specifically the information having to do with their “departure.”  It was interesting how that information affected the behavior of those seeking to make a connecting flight.  If running late, you would find them scurrying through the airport with little or no time to stop along the way to shop, eat, or visit.  Those with plenty of time to spare could be found in a restaurant, browsing in a shop, or relaxing in a chair.  But no matter what they might have been doing, in the back of their mind they were thinking of their “departure.” 

I took the time to stop at Wendy’s and order a hamburger, and as I sat there watching the passengers heading to their “departure,” I was struck with the thought that each one of us will face our eventual “departure” from this world into eternity.  I wonder how many of those passengers had given any thought at all to that moment in time when they will face death and pass from this life into the eternal abode of the soul?  

Eternity!  Men have attempted to capture the essence of eternity, but their attempts are weak at best, and completely inadequate.  Here is how someone sought to describe eternity:  “If you can imagine an ant marching around a steel globe the size of this planet.  How long would it take that ant to wear a path one inch deep in that steel globe?  How long would it take to wear a path one foot deep? Ten feet deep?  The time it takes is only an inkling of eternity.”  But friends, even that illustration measures activity related to time.  In eternity, there is no time.  How can we even begin to grasp the concept of eternity?  If we could but capture its essence, it would be but for a fleeting moment, for we are quickly drawn back to the temporal; the here and now.  But will you, for just a moment, imagine yourself standing before the judgment bar of God, as you hear the sentence pronounced, “Depart, I never knew you.”  Now will you try to imagine that you find yourself, like the rich man who refused to give unto Lazarus the things for which that beggar lacked, opening your eyes in “torments.”  And so begins the punishment that you must now endure forever, time without end.  If your punishment were to be for a million years, you might could bear it, for after that first year you would know you have only nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine years to go.  There would be a ray of hope that someday, though far, far removed, you would eventually be released from that torment.  But my friend, in hell there is NO hope; NO release to be expected; NO cessation of the punishment that you will receive for your disobedience to God.  Oh what despair!  No longer will that television program have any importance.  How you did in the stock market will be completely insignificant.  The closing balance of your bank account will seem so little, regardless of the dollar figure the bottom line might show.  Those things that we placed so much importance on in this life will seem so trivial, so completely unimportant.       

When Sir William Russel was sentenced to die, someone recorded that along the way to the scaffold he handed his watch to a friend and said, "Will you kindly take my timepiece and keep it? I have no use for it.  I am now dealing with eternity."  When the time comes for us to enter eternity there are a lot of things we will no longer have any need of.  One second after my heart beats its last beat, and I breath my last breath, I will realize that much of what I valued in this life will pale in comparison to what I will value in the life to come.  One drop of water was of great value to the rich man; but alas he could not obtain it.  And while he fared sumptuously every day while living upon the earth, he was a pauper the other side of death.  Let us keep our priorities straight in this life, and when it comes time to depart the walks of this earth, may each one of us calmly and victoriously cast off those things that we cannot take with us, with the glorious expectation that we shall embrace that which is of lasting value when once we cross over the Jordan river into that eternal abode that awaits those who are faithful in this life.  The question we must entertain now is, “Am I ready for my departure?”

God's Marvelous Grace

by Tom Wacaster
  
"For by grace have ye been saved though faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory' (Eph. 2:8-9). These words have been the center of controversy for as long as I can remember. Denominational theologians, and in recent years some of our own brethren have suggested that man is saved solely on the basis of grace; that no man can "contribute one whit to his salvation." This of course is false on the very surface of it. One need simply take a look at the numerous passages which lay at the feet of each and every individual the responsibility to act on that which he has come to know and believe (Phil. 2:12, 2 Thess. 1:7-9, Acts 17:30-31, 2 Cor. 5:10). If man plays absolutely no role whatsoever in his salvation, then all men must eventually be saved for "the grace of God hath appeared unto all men" (Titus 2:11).

Yes, the doctrine of salvation by grace has been abused, maligned, and perverted. But we must avoid the temptation to swing too far to the right while attempting to make a correction toward center. Balance demands the recognition of both parties involved in salvation, namely the divine and human sides of salvation. When we speak of God's grace, we are speaking of the divine side of salvation. Someone has said, ""Grace is that quality of God which gives us what we do not deserve while mercy is that quality which does not give us what we do deserve." God saves us by grace, not by obligation. The only obligation that God has to save man is that obligation that is self imposed. He is not obligated by outside forces. What you or I do in compliance to God's commands does not in any way obligate God, or place Him in debt to us. But since He has promised that He will save those who believe and obey, He has placed upon Himself the obligation to follow through on His promises. What great comfort there is in knowing that we serve a God Who never lies, and Who always keeps His promises. There is great consolation in knowing that we do not have to depend upon our own self righteousness to make it to heaven. Were that the case, then quite frankly, none of us would ever see so much as the shadow of that heavenly portal to which we have set our hopes and our hearts. The key here is this little word "depend." It is a matter of in what or in Whom we place our trust and confidence. It is summed up in the word "faith."

Paul clearly states that we are saved by grace, through faith. Faith is the medium by which we gain access to the wonderful grace of God. Here is the human side of salvation. When the two are combined, the result is man's salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. Clovis Chappell once wrote, "God measures us not by our achievements, but by our longings to achieve. He judges us not by what we have in our hands, but what we have in our hearts. He crowns us not for the great task that we actually accomplished, but for the great task that we long to accomplish." The beloved poet Browning said, "It is not what man does, but what man would do that exalts him." When we sing the words, "My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go; I know He'll take me thro' tho' I am weak and poor," we are speaking of God's Marvelous Grace.

For My Sake

by Tom Wacaster
  
Bobby Key tells of a little dog that President Theodore Roosevelt owned, which was always getting into fights. The little fellow always took a beating. One day he tackled a mangy cur and took a real whipping. A man standing nearby said, "Mr. Roosevelt, your dog isn't much of a fighter." Teddy replied, "He is a good fighter, but he is a poor judge of dogs."  When I was growing up it was my intention to remain aloof of the little scuffles that may have arisen in school.  I despised a fight! Partly because of my size, but mostly because mom and dad taught us to avoid such things.  But good intentions never won an argument, and as hard as I tried, I still managed to get into my share of trouble.  When I was in Junior high, attending John B. Hood school in a northern suburb of Dallas, there was this tall, rather husky fellow who liked to demonstrate his brute strength.  In short, he loved to pick a fight with those smaller than himself (which would encompass the whole of the P.E. class).   As I recall, we were sitting in the bleachers, listening to one of those long winded coaches deliver a lecture. Unknown to me, this overgrown social misfit decided he would tie my shoe laces around one of the metal brackets on the bleacher.  When the lecture was over, and we got up to leave, I fell flat on my face, snapped the laces off at the shoe, and suffered injury to my body, and my pride. Honor was at stake here!  Somehow I managed to open my mouth, and things would be settled after school that afternoon.  I'll not tell you how things turned out, but I determined from that day forward that I would learn to be a peace maker.  I have never enjoyed controversy. I don't suppose any of us do.  But there are times when we must stand for that which is right, face the enemy square in the eyes, and let come what may.  Our Lord was a controversialist. He did not run from confrontation, nor did He ever allow the truth to suffer at the hands of the enemy.  Beloved, the very nature of truth is controversial. And if our Lord suffered reproach, ridicule, and rejection from His own, what makes us think that we will escape the same?  So when do we fight, and when do we turn and walk away? Our Lord provided the key: "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, FOR MY SAKE" (Matthew 5:11).  If at any time the truth is at stake, or the honor of the Lord is threatened, then it is time to stand in the gap and let courage prevail.  Sometimes wisdom dictates that we simply walk away from an argument and let the fool be known by his folly.  When our personal feelings are at stake, or when pride is threatened, it might be good to be a peace maker.  Too many congregations have been divided over petty differences.  Matters of opinion often are treated as matters of doctrine.  Though sometimes it is difficult to determine what constitutes opinion vs. doctrine, it is essential that we recognize the difference - even if it means withholding judgment until we are certain it truly IS a matter of doctrine.  But when the truth is at stake - when the clear teaching of God's word is threatened - then we must, like our Savior, draw the sword and march into battle.  Fear must give way to faith, and courage must prevail.  We must be willing to face the enemy with the full thrust of God's word, holding back nothing, pitying none, and loving God and His word above all else.  The late J.W. McGarvey noted, "Where the hottest fire of the enemy is, thither the return fire must be directed" (J.W. McGarvey).  Let us encourage those who are determined to preach the truth, and let us determine that we will do all within our power to let our lives demonstrate a courage that is willing to die "for His sake."   We'll close with the following poem

The World Needs Men

The world needs men who love the truth
And hold ideals others spurn;
Who work to conquer social ills
And make mankind their great concern.
It pleads for men whose thoughts are right,
Who give the pure and noble wings;
For they alone can lift the race
From baser thoughts to which it clings.

The world needs men-- men unafraid
To face the marching hordes of might;
With well-trained mind and ready voice
To speak courageously for right.
It calls for men who walk with God;
Who make the cause of Christ their own,
And in this flippant, careless age,
All other lifeless gods, disown.

--George W. Wiseman
( in Doran's Ministers Manual, 1945)

Following Instructions

by Tom Wacaster
  
About a month ago I decided that it was time to replace the old DVD player with an updated player and recorder combo. When I unpacked the box there were four manuals (one in English, one in Spanish, one in French, and one in German), a package of wires included for routing the TV signal through the DVD player, a wire for use with digital cameras, and some extra paraphernalia for first one thing and then another. Everything was included in the box that would give me an “enjoyable experience” with my new DVD player/recorder (except batteries, of course). Most manufactures of electronic equipment have figured out that many of their customers are anxious to “get started” and so they include, along with the owner’s manual, a “quick start guide” that enables the customer to get his equipment up and running, even if he does not know what he is doing once he does get it going. Once the customer has his equipment up and running he is encouraged to take the time to read the owner’s manual. But if I know the human race, by this time most of the new proud owners of the latest in electronic gadgetry are saying to themselves, “Who needs the owner’s manual? What do they think I am, a dunce? I can do this on my own.” This same mind set kicks in when it comes to consulting a map to figure out where you are, putting together a complicated piece of lawn equipment, or following instructions for any number of complicated, or not so complicated, items.

Were this mind set limited to the temporal and physical realm in which we live, we might only have to suffer an occasional embarrassment, or at worst, like Tim “the-tool-man” Taylor, make a visit to the hospital now and then. But tragically this same kind of mind set seems to have infected the masses when it comes to listening to, or consulting with, the God of heaven in matters of religion. I have, on a number of occasions, referred to the Bible as our soul’s “owner’s manual.” Within the pages of this book are instructions that will provide us with a peaceful and happy life here on earth (Phil 4:7), better health and overall happiness (1 Pet. 3:10), our daily provisions of food, clothing and shelter (Matt. 6:19-33), and the hope of life everlasting when this life is over (Rom. 8:25, 1 Cor.13:13, Gal. 5:5). When we examine the religious landscape about us it is rather obvious that the “many” (Matt. 7:13) have gone about seeking to establish a system of religion based upon their own wants and desires rather than taking the time to read and study the owner’s manual. “I don’t need that manual,” or “I’m smart enough to figure this out on my own” seem to permeate the thinking of mankind spiritually speaking. It seems to me that there are at least four classifications of those who have failed, or are failing, to read the manual.
First, there are those who have never even heard of the manual. Living in the dark recesses of the earth, they are completely unaware of the Bible, the message contained therein, or it’s Great Giver. These need not live in Africa, or the Congo, for there are some even within the borders of our own United States who have never heard of God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or the plan for man’s salvation. Millions upon millions living in India bow at the feet of their Hindu gods while millions here in America bow at the shrine of material gain without so much as an inkling of an idea of who God is or the wonderful blessings that await them through His Son Jesus Christ.

Second, there are those who know about the manual, but have not taken the time to study it carefully. These have some vague idea as to the system of Christianity, but at some point in time they decided that they do not need God, nor do they need to take the time to read the Bible, or comply with the commandments contained therein. That “manual” may have been good enough for mom and dad, but after all, “I have more important things to do than to waste time reading some manual; I can figure this out for myself.”

Third, there are those who want a “quick start” in their “Christianity,” and, rather than read the manual itself, have relied upon others to read it for them. Heed is given to their “pastor,” or “preacher” upon whom they rely for instructions in religion and the exercise thereof. The false teachers, with their “smooth and fair speech…beguile the hearts of the innocent” (Rom. 16:18), and these careless souls are carried away with every wind of doctrine imaginable (Eph. 4:14); all for the lack of taking the time to read the instructions.  

Finally, there are those who have quickly read the manual or a small portion thereof, and who care not what the Book says but are intent on doing it their way. “I like it,” or “I want it” are the twin manifestations of a selfish heart that despise the narrow-minded pattern of God’s word. Rather than confine themselves to the instructions from above, they are determined to walk in the path of their own foolishness. They ignore the warning of old, “O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). To them, how to worship God is not so important as their desire to worship him. Sincerity trumps truth, and feelings outweigh facts. From those caught up in denominational error to those who have been deluded by the change agents within the body of Christ, the end result will be the same, for “if the blind guide the blind, both shall fall into the pit” (Matt. 15:14).

When it comes to life, and the eternal destiny of the soul, it is imperative that you take the time to read the instructions and follow them cautiously and carefully. You may be able to eventually figure out how to operate that new piece of electronic equipment. You may even be able to figure out “how to get there from here” without consulting a map. But beloved, you are NEVER (I repeat, “Never”) going to make it to heaven if you do not take the time to read and follow the instructions.

My Old Bible

Though the cover is worn,
And the pages are torn,
And though places bear traces of tears.
Yet more precious than gold,
Is this book worn and old,
That can scatter and shatter my fears.
This old book is my guide.
This is a friend by my side
It will lighten and brighten my way;
And each promise I find,
Soothes and gladdens my mind,
As I read it and heed it each day.
To this book I will cling,
Of its worth I will sing,
Though great losses and crosses be mine;
For I cannot despair,
Though surrounded by care,
While possessing this blessing divine.

Our Fine Tuned Universe

by Tom Wacaster
  
Since the mid 1920's our nation has been fed a steady diet of humanism, evolution, and atheism.  Every attempt has been made to get Jehovah God "out" of the picture, and put man at the center, and science as the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful "god" that instructs, enlightens, and informs.   The particular point of focus in the battle for the minds of men has been our educational system.  For the past sixty years the liberal, humanistic, anti-God haters have dominated the class rooms of our public education system.  Consequently we are witnessing the collapse of moral integrity and Biblical ethics that were the mainstay of our society for the previous 200 years.  The battle has been waged in the class room as both sides of our present cultural war have sought to get the upper hand and capture the minds of our youth.  There are signs, however, that the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward center.  From one end of our nation to the other, states are taking a closer look at "intelligent design" as a plausible explanation of the origin of our universe and man.  Some States now require that evolution be taught as a "theory" and not scientific fact.  Others, such as Kansas, have introduced "intelligent design" into the classrooms of their public schools.  Of course the media, along with liberal organizations such as the PTA and NEA, are refusing to go down without a fight.  When one watches the main stream media it is rather astonishing that those being interviewed are extremely biased toward anything that has any religious overtones to it, in spite of the fact that evidence abounds for intelligent design and against evolution.  I am fully aware that the politically correct notion is that "anybody who has any intelligence at all" knows that evolution is a fact, and Genesis 1 is nothing more than "myth."   But for just a moment, let's forget about being "politically correct," and let’s put on our thinking caps and consider the evidence that points to design as the only logical explanation for this world, the universe, and mankind. 

Physicist Paul Davies, in his book God And The New Physics (page 189), observed:  "It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…The seemingly miraculous concurrence of these numerical values must remain the most compelling evidence for cosmic design."   Even the most hardened of atheists (such as the late Carl Sagan) have admitted that the conditions on our planet are "just right" to sustain life.  It is an undeniable fact that the balance of the fundamental laws of physics are such that our universe appears to have been "fine tuned" in order to provide a place for life to exist as we know it.  So much so, in fact, that one noted scientist observed that "it appears as if this world was actually created in order to prepare a place for man to dwell."   Lee Strobel likens it to the following: 

I like to use the analogy of astronauts landing on Mars and finding an enclosed biosphere, sort of like the domed structure that was built in Arizona a few years ago.  At the control panel they find that all the dials for its environment are set just right for life.  The oxygen ratio is perfect; the temperature is seventy degrees; the humidity is fifty percent; there's a system for replenishing the air; there are systems for producing food, generating energy, and disposing of wastes.  Each dial has a huge range of possible settings, and you can see if you were to adjust one or more of them just a little bit, the environment would go out of whack and life would be impossible.  What conclusion would you draw from that?

While science has, to a large degree, been dominated by non-believers, we are seeing a new generation of scientists who are taking a closer look at the evidence.  Over the past three decades scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of our universe is balanced on what one has called, "a razor's edge for life to exist."  Noted atheist turned believer, Fred Hoyle admitted, "Someone has been monkeying with the physics."  The gravity or our world, the location of the earth in relation to the sun, the moon and other planets, and even the eco-system of this world in which we live all "scream" that some intelligent mind was behind it all.  Let's borrow one example from Lee Strobel's book, The Case For A Creator:

The [cosmological] constant, which is a part of Einstein's equation for General Relativity, could have any value, positive or negative…[A]stronomical observations show that the cosmological constant is quite small, very much smaller than would have been guessed from first principles…The fine tuning has been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion  billion billion billion.  That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes.  That's inconceivably precise.  Put it this way.  Let's say you were way out in space and were going to throw a dart at random toward Earth. It would be like successfully hitting a bull's eye that's one trillionth of a trillioneth of an inch in diameter.  That's less than the size of one solitary atom.

When we consider the conditions that go into making our world a suitable place for human habitat, we stand amazed at the intelligence that it demonstrates.  We are awed at the God Who could so "fine-tune" our world so as it make it a suitable place for human life.   Only the "fool" would say, "There is no God." He is a fool for the simple reason that he has the same evidence staring him in the face, and still refuses to see God.