Is No The Only Word In Your Vocabulary?

by Tom Wacaster

In 1994 our pet poodle died of a stroke.  My recollections of that dog are fond ones, particularly when it comes to how well disciplined she was.   After several months of rigorous training, verbal commands, coupled with punishment and/or reward, that little 12 pound canine turned out to be a decent, well behaved, and without doubt, a loving companion for the family.  It would be six years before we sought out and purchased another dog. Having had our present poodle now for that same length of time, we recall with fondness the "puppy" stage that has given way to a well trained, more mature, and sometimes lazy, canine.  We learned some lessons during the trying time that it took to produce the finished product, but it has been worth the effort.

When she was barely twelve weeks old, and still in that "puppy" mode where her jaws were constantly moving and biting, the vet assured us that this was her way of getting acquainted with unfamiliar things.  It seems that every time that little three pound ball of fluff turned around we were saying, "No Mille" (Mille is short for Millennium Cream, her registered name; she was born five minutes after midnight, January 1, 2000).   A diligent effort to house break her eventually payed off, but in the process she heard "No Mille" so many times that she may have been tempted to think that was her name.  She would chew on the carpet, our clothing, bare feet and fingers.  Likely, were she able to talk, she would have responded: "Is 'No' the only word in your vocabulary?"   I am confident that some of our more liberal thinking brethren might have somewhat to say about our tactics in raising dogs.  "Your constant, 'No this,' and 'no that,' will produce a dog with little self esteem."  Another would point out that dogs raised in such a conservative atmosphere tend to be "un-controllable."  Still another might suggest that we should "praise the dog more and criticize her less."  Well, so much for "suggestions," none of which, in this dog-trainers humble opinion, are worth more than the space used to pass this little tid-bit along to our readers.  For the most part, our fellow dog-owners realize the need for loving discipline, especially during the early years of a dog's life. 

Now, before I say anything about application, let me assure you that I am, by no means, suggesting that we ought to treat one another like "dogs." But there is a remarkable lesson to learn from my simple, but limited, experience as a dog trainer.  To the Greeks, a horse that was considered "meek," was one that had its spirit brought under control.  It was now useful to its master.  Seeing that one of the beatitudes reads, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), it would seem that each one of us would earnestly desire to obtain meekness, i.e. self control of the spirit within and restraint of the tendency to rebellion that so often characterizes man.   What is it about man that calls for constant reminders that there are some things that we simply cannot do?  When the elders say, "We cannot do this," or the preacher says, "No, that's far enough," they are simply trying to remind us that a specific act, habit, or thought is, for lack of a better word, "a no-no" in the sight of God.  The more immature the child of God (whether because he is a new "babe" in Christ and has not had time to grow, or an uninformed older Christian), the more he will hear the words, "No, brother so-and-so, you cannot go that direction."  Unfortunately, some react in a negative way: "Your constant 'no this, or no that' is 'negative preaching,' and we will not be inundated with such 'negative preaching.'"  Others will believe the lie that discipline somehow warps character and stunts self image.   Were some to speak their mind they might ask the elders or preacher, "Is 'No' the only word in your vocabulary?"   Is there any way we can convince you that all such 'negative preaching' (as some are wont to say) is really for your benefit? 

My constant refrain of "No Mille," was an attempt to bring a little animal in line with the demands of a master who loves her and wants, in the final analysis, to provide her with a contented and happy "dog's life."  That will only be achieved through persistent discipline and a stern reminder to her that some things simply will not be tolerated.  God has communicated the same thing to you and me.  His desire is that we bring our will in submission to His so that, when the period of training and preparation has passed, we enjoy that home prepared for the saints of every age. Meanwhile, we will have to go on hearing, "No brother/sister," and realize that though we may hear those words often, they are NOT the only words in God's vocabulary.  By His demands on our life He is really saying, "I love you; will you love me in return?"

Roots Or Reliability

by Tom Wacaster

A search of your ancestral tree will reveal that you may have had ancestors that hung by the neck, but never by the tail.    Multitudes are feverishly involved in searching their “roots”; for exactly what reason depends upon the one doing the searching.  Mormons search genealogies in hopes that they might find someone for whom they can be baptized; unfortunately proxy baptism is not taught in the Bible, and it is futile to search your family tree in such vain hope.  No doubt some (perhaps most) spend an amazing amount of time for no other purpose than satisfying the curiosity to know where we came from.   There is much to learn from history, and therein might lay the value of searching one’s roots.  

To some, historical “roots” are very important in selecting a religious organization with which to be identified.  Identification and participation are based upon how far back one can “trace” the beginning of that church.  Is the church a “late comer,” or does it have a long standing reputation of honesty, integrity and spiritual benefit? 

Permit me to be a little bold right here and declare that the “tracing” of some denomination's history is of no value whatsoever.  For one thing, even if you COULD find some sort of line back several hundred years, it would in no way guarantee the purity of that group's religious practice.  The past does not secure the future.  The apostle Paul foretold of a “falling away” (1 Tim. 4:1-4).  One living in the time of the “apostate” church might easily trace his roots to the time of the apostles, but so what?  The question is not “roots,” but “reliability.” 

Second, undue emphasis upon historical roots is really caused by a failure to understand the lesson of the parable of the sower. In Luke 8:4-8 Jesus told of the sower who went forth to sow. In the explanation of that parable our Lord pointed out that the seed is the word of God. If one plants a seed, any seed, he will get a crop exactly like that from which the seed was extracted.  The “history” of that seed will have no bearing upon what comes forth.  The application?  If we plant the “seed of God's word” the crop will be exactly like that from which it came!  Nothing more; nothing less.  Plant the word in an honest heart and the result will be a Christian.  My faith is the product of being born of the incorruptible seed.  I repeat, it is not a matter of “roots” but “reliability.”

In Search of a Home

by Tom Wacaster

Home!  There is something about that word.  Take those four letters and attempt to form all the English words possible and I think I can safely say that this word – “home” – is all you will get.  I did not take Webster’s Dictionary and search it out, but I think a little effort on the part of any individual will prove it true!  Those fortunate enough to have been raised in a God-fearing family understand the value of that kind of home.   Keep in mind there is a difference between a house and a home! One author captured the essence of what we say:

Home is where the heart is,
In dwellings great or small;
And there is many a stately mansion
That isn’t a home at all;
And a cottage lighted with love light
Is the dearest home of all.

Ask your neighbor where “home” is and he will likely recall the days of his childhood when life was a little slower, peace was the order of the day, and safety and protection were taken for granted.   Whisper the word “home,” and see if that does not conjure up warm feeling within your own breast. 

In 1961 the late Brook Benton released his version of “The Ballad of the Boll Weevil.”  The first stanza and chorus went like this:

Well, the boll weevil is a little black bug
Come from Mexico they say
Well he come all the way to Texas
He was lookin for a place to stay
Just lookin' for a home,
He was lookin' for a home

He was lookin' for a home,
Lookin' for a home.
He was lookin' for a home,
Well, lookin' for a home.

Since accepting the work at Handley I must admit I feel much like that boll weevil.  Temporary quarters in a two bed-room apartment are not quite like having your own house.   We knew from the time we signed the lease on the apartment that we would eventually find a more permanent place to live; and so the “search” began.   Hopefully the search will end soon, and we can set about making arrangements to make the move into more permanent quarters.   Having been through this process a number of times over the last 40 years, I continue to be impressed with the similarity of searching and securing a physical “house” with that of searching and securing that eternal mansion that awaits the faithful.  Let me explain.

First, moving from one location to another impresses upon one’s mind the temporary nature of material things.  I must admit that God has richly blessed us with comfortable houses in which to live during our 42 years of marriage.  Some of those houses have been extremely small (ask our son whose bedroom once consisted of an enclosed back porch where he shared his room with the washer and dryer, and wall to wall carpet was a “Welcome” mat.  He often said that flies had to file a flight plan to come into his bedroom).   Some of those houses in which we have lived would be considered a “mansion” by those living in other countries.   But all of those houses have one thing in common: they were only temporary dwellings which the Wacaster family occupied on their sojourn through life.  Each and every one of them were subject to fire, termites, and deterioration. 

Second, the only “house” that can bring true peace and happiness is the “mansion” that Jesus has promised the faithful.  Notice that I did not say “home”!  Peace and happiness is abundant in a home where God and Christ are more than occasional guests.  But a brick mansion without God is nothing more than that – a brick house!

Third, it takes a diligent effort to search out and secure that heavenly home promised to the children of God.  Like the boll weevil we must be about “lookin’ for a home.”  Our Lord promised that if we will “seek…ye shall fine” (Matt. 7:7a).  This is not to be a casual investigation, but a diligent effort put forth so as to acquire the desired end. 

Right now we are “searching” for a house in which to live, with the full expectation that God will provide.  But more importantly, it is our aim to continue to seek that heavenly home, “which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).  When our Lord returns to gather all the faithful and take them to heaven, the “mansion” promised will become our eternal “home,” and never again will we be in search of a home, for faith will become sight, and hope will become a reality!  Won’t that be a great day?

Giving Thanks In Every Situation

by Tom Wacaster

Once again we are approaching that one day in the year which our government leaders of a bygone era set aside in order to emphasize thanksgiving to our Creator for His abundant blessings.  As God’s children, we realize that the giving of thanks is not an annual, but a daily part of our lives.   Perhaps it would be good this Thanksgiving Day to include the following petition in our prayer before sitting down to eat:  “God, please grant us one more blessing…a thankful heart.” 

Permit me to share with you two stories that have been in my files for more than 25 years.  The first of these tells about a circuit-riding preacher of a hundred years ago who was asked to ride miles out of his way to hold services in a church known for being tightfisted.  His text was 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The minister preached an eloquent sermon on gratitude and stressed the need of finding a sense of thanksgiving in every situation of life.  At the close of the service, the minister passed his wide-brimmed hat for the collection. It came back empty. He turned it upside down, and then shook it, but nothing came out. As the preacher began his benediction, the congregation wondered what he could give thanks for. “Father in Heaven,” the minister prayed good naturedly, “I thank thee for many things, but especially for getting my hat back.”

Our second story comes out of the life of Matthew Henry, the well known Bible commentator.  Mr. Henry was a cheerful man, and reportedly of easy temperament. Once, when he discovered a thief had stolen his purse, he turned to his diary and entered this observation: “Let me be thankful first, because he never robbed be before; second, because although he took my purse he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

It is often difficult to find a blessing in trials and tribulation.  The problem that we face in our affluent society is that we often mistake our luxuries for necessities, and mere inconveniences as severe trials.  There is a therapeutic value to gratitude. Being grateful for the beauty of life in any and every circumstance will help us bear the burden of the moment and lift us up to face our tomorrows with a deeper appreciation for what we DO have, rather than fret over what we may have lost. 

Of course it is much easier to give thanks in times of peace and prosperity.  But at the same time there is a greater danger in affluent times to forget to give thanks.  Though given as a warning to Old Testament Israel, the truth contained in Deuteronomy 8:10-11 is fitting: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”

Should our Lord return in our life time may we be of such a frame of mind that He will find us giving thanks in any and every situation.  We hope you have an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day!

New Numbers

by Tom Wacaster

This past October 16th my wife and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary.   In those four plus decades we have moved a total of 26 times.  We are presently engaged in yet another move, this time to the Forth Worth, Texas area.  This move will make number 27 (if we have counted correctly).  Some of those moves have been just “around the corner,” some across town, some out of state, and at least two times from one country to another.   None of those moves has been “easy,” and some of them have been what Peter might classify as a “fiery trial.”  In each of those moves we have had to take care of those pesky “new numbers” that come into our lives:  address, zip codes, area codes, phone numbers, bank account numbers; the list seems almost endless.  It is amazing how many numbers we still remember – burned into our memory as with a “hot iron”:  1312 South Cherry, 722 West 22nd, 501 Southgate, to name but a few.   Each location has provided us with memories to last a life time. It makes no difference whether we lived there for a few months, or for a few years; we can still remember those experiences that come with raising a family, or working with God’s family in the congregation with which I was associated at the time.   Oh, the memories! 

Once again our numbers are changing.  We are acquiring a new address, new phone numbers (house, office and cell), and a new zip code that goes with the P.O. Box as well as the street address.   The change in numbers symbolizes a change in the road we travel through life’s sojourn toward that heavenly home.   Each of those new numbers reminds us of the uncertainly of life and the ever changing circumstances we experience over the years.  No doubt these new numbers will only be temporary and it will not be long ere we once gain find ourselves acquiring yet more numbers to take up space in our mind and provide our friends with information of our whereabouts. 

 The uncertainty of life reflected in those changing numbers stands in stark contrast to the permanence of our God.  He is “the same yesterday and today, yea and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  The Proverb writer noted, “There are many devices in a man's heart; But the counsel of Jehovah, that shall stand” (Pro. 19:21).  It is this realization of the sovereignty of our God that gives us hope in times of despair, patience in the face of adversity, and a firm foundation when everything around us seems to be crumbling at our feet.  No doubt W. Williams had this very thought in mind when he wrote the words to that well known hymn:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I a weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

Let life’s fleeting changes come and go; the saint will hold fast to the hand of his God, never losing sight of that heavenly mansion that has been prepared for the faithful.  The time will come when we lay aside this “tabernacle” for a “house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).   It may be my lot to move another dozen times before my Lord calls me to that heavenly home. But when it comes my time to depart the walks of life I will rejoice knowing that my heavenly home will be a place where there will be no “new numbers” to memorize or mail to my loved ones.   

Back In The Saddle

by Tom Wacaster

Some of you country and western fans might remember a popular song with the above title.  “Back in the Saddle Again” was the signature song of American cowboy entertainer Gene Autry. It was co-written by Autry with Ray Whitley and first released in1939. The song was associated with Autry throughout his career and was used as the name of Autry's autobiography in 1976.  The song struck a cord (no pun intended) with country and western fans, and has remained a popular musical hit reaching beyond the world of country and western music into pop and easy listening circles as well.  There is only one stanza, followed by a chorus, and a repeat of the one stanza.  Here are the words:

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again

Ridin' the range once more
Totin' my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again

It has been a little over seven years since I left local work to engage in mission efforts around the world. I have truly enjoyed the work, and I must confess that in all my labors to date in the Lord’s kingdom, these seven years have been among the most rewarding.  The receptivity of souls in Russia, India, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Mexico reminds us of a bygone era in America when men’s souls hungered and thirsted for the truth.  This growth of the church numerically in India reminds me of something I have read in history books about the Lord’s church and experienced only briefly in the early years of my youth.   In my seven campaigns to India we have baptized more than 2,000 souls, established more than four dozen new congregations, converted whole denominational churches, and helped in benevolent cases that have opened the doors into areas where the gospel was previously not allowed to go.  

On November 1st I officially re-entered local work.  Of course I was in Russia at the time, but my mind was turning toward what awaited me upon my arrival home on the 4th.  Sunday morning the 7th I preached my first sermon as the pulpit minister for the Handley congregation.  I will still be involved in two mission endeavors making one trip to Russia and one trip to India each year.   I have, as Gene Autry was wont to say, climbed “back in the saddle again.”  No, I have no intention of mounting a steed, but Mr. Autry has captured the sentiments of all those who, for one reason or another, have found themselves returning to something of which they are familiar, and in which they find great pleasure.  To that extent I guess you could say, I’m “back in the saddle again.”  What I love most about local work is the opportunity to preach – and to do so in one’s own language, without having to go through an interpreter.  I am not so na├»ve as to think that we will get the kind of responses I have seen in India; but I also believe that if we plant enough seed, we will reap an abundant harvest for this is something the Lord has promised.  To that end we will focus our attention, and to that end we will engage our labors.

One more thought before I close this week’s “Tom’s Pen.”  There are many once-faithful saints who, for one reason or another, have allowed the devil to delude, deceive, and destroy their faith in God.  Perhaps a weak brother or sister will read this article, and realize that with God’s great grace and His wonderful love for their soul, they will be willing to repent of their sins, and join me in repeating the refrain of that old Gene Autry song, “I’m back in the saddle again.”  

The Trumpet, Harp, Timbrel, Stringed Instruments and Loud Cymbals

by Tom Wacaster

Those who advocate the use of instruments of music in worship to God often appeal to Psalms 150:3-5 for support of such a practice. But does the chapter lend support for instruments of music? Should we take a passage that is quite obviously Hebrew poetry, interpret it as prose, and use it for authority to bring a piano, organ, stringed instruments, or cymbals into the worship of the church? We think not; and hence the subject for our study in this week’s “Tom’s Pen.”

Praise him with trumpet sound: Praise him with psaltery and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe.
Praise him with loud cymbals: Praise him with high sounding cymbals.

These verses emphasize the depth of praise. Although we are not authorized to use instrumental music in our worship and praise to God, it is significant that there is a wide array of items used in praise unto God as noted by the Psalmist. These include (1) trumpet sound, (2) psaltery, (3) harp, (4) timbrel, (5) dance, (6) stringed instrument, (7) pipe, (8) cymbals, and (9) high sounding cymbals. The question we must entertain is whether or not these methods were intended to be perpetual. Were these instruments intended to find a place in worship in the New Testament? I suggest not, for the following reasons:

1) These things were introduced by David, and adapted by Israel; there is no indication that God ever authorized these things Himself, but that He simply ALLOWED them to be brought into the worship, much like He allowed Israel to have a KING;
2) There is not even so much as a hint that these things were used in the first century church. Neither scripture nor history gives any indication that they were used as acceptable means of worship. Instead, the New Testament authorized new methods, designed to emphasize the spiritual rather than the physical (i.e. prayer, Lord's supper, preaching, singing of spiritual songs, giving).

What, then, is the living message of this portion of the Psalm? It is poetic language; and each part of this ensemble of instruments is designed to teach us some important truth regarding our worship to God. May we suggest the following regarding the mention of each of these “instruments.”

“Praise him with the trumpet of sound” – The Hebrew word ('shophar') spoke of the curved ram's horn used by the watchman to warn of impending danger as well as the call to come to worship. The Psalmist was suggesting that the sleeper must be aroused from his sleep. The sound of the trumpet would awaken his thoughts so that he would become focused upon the obligation at hand – that of praising Jehovah. Away with sloth and indifference! Praise to God deserves and demands a sober mind focused upon the occasion of the moment. It is unfortunate that many a deluded soul enters the auditorium for worship, and sits down to pass the time, often amusing himself with activities other than worship, and on occasions drifting off into sleep. Such need to be awakened with the trumpet call to worship.

“praise him with psaltery and harp” – The “psaltery” ('nabla') was a hollow stringed instrument; perhaps like the guitar or mandolin. The “harp” ('kinnor') was another stringed instrument, but consisted of a somewhat deeper sound than the psaltery. In order to compose and play music on these instruments the worshipper would have to train and prepare himself intensely and with great determination. The point to be emphasized here is the undeniable truth that acceptable worship demands proper preparation prior to our coming into the presence of God. We should take the time to fine tune the “skill” (if I may be permitted to use that word) of worship.

“timbrel and dance” – The “timbrel” ('toph') would have been similar to our tambourine. The Psalmist links the timbrel with dance. The idea seems to be that the use of the timbrel naturally flowed down to the beat of the feet in dance. Notice that the music thus involved both the hands and feet, i.e. the whole of the worshipper. When David danced before the ark on its journey back to the Temple he did so because of the depth of his love for God. Only the best would do, and the intensity of involvement was implied on that occasion as it is clearly taught here.

“stringed instruments and pipes” – The “stringed instruments” ('men') and the “pipes” ('ugab') the Psalmist focuses the various chords and sounds that could be produced by the strings and wind instruments. The deep melody of the heart is the focus of the Psalmist. When the worshipper reaches deep into his soul and plucks the strings of his heart in worship to his Creator he has captured the focus of this verse.

“loud cymbals…high sounding cymbals” – The trumpets are sounding, the stringed instruments adding the warm and deep chords of melodic music, and the wind instruments are piped. All that remains is the crescendo that comes with the sounding of the cymbals. The point emphasized is the full and rich climax of true worship.

The full orchestra is now in place. With the mention of these instruments the Psalmist would draw the worshipper's attention to the expertise involved in worship. It is not necessary for the saint to understand the advanced techniques of music, but it behooves each and every child of God to at least put forth the effort to develop and use his ability in singing to the best degree possible. It is astonishing how indifferent we sometimes appear to be when it comes to singing a song properly. No, we are not suggesting that God measures our worship by whether or not we are “on key” or in perfect harmony with those in the assembly. But the very fact that we are singing praises unto our God should motivate us to do our best; and our best will be better if we take the time to study at least the basics of music and put forth every effort to make our singing the best possible. We must caution, however, lest the worshipper focus upon his own abilities and his pride render his worship vain. Our worship begins with the trumpet – God's word calling us to worship in “spirit and in truth” (Joh 4:24). Our hearts are poured out, the strings of our heart plucked with our love and devotion for God. As we sing our hearts swell with gratitude and appreciation for the God Who has saved us. From the depth of our hearts the “cymbals” crash as our praise to God is poured out to He Who sits on the throne!

The student who sees nothing more in these three verses than instruments of music has missed the true meaning of David’s call for praise with “the trumpet, harp, timbrel, stringed instruments, and loud cymbals.”

Mission of Mercy

by Tom Wacaster

A couple of years ago one of the major television networks produced a made-for-television movie based on the true story of two pilots who attempted to fly two, single-engine crop dusters from the West Coast to Australia.  As the story developed, one of the planes never got airborne from the lay over in Hawaii, and the second pilot, at the encouragement of the first, continued the journey alone.   Due to the combination of unforeseen circumstances, malfunction in equipment, and pilot error, our lone pilot became lost over the Pacific somewhere northeast of Aukland, New Zealand, now without the necessary navigational equipment to get him safely to  his destination.  As he radioed for help, a commercial jetliner, enroute to New Zealand, heard of the pilot's predicament, and agreed to do what he could to locate the small plane that was, by best estimates, somewhere in the vicinity.

It was like looking for the proverbial "needle in a haystack."  But with the consent of the proper authorities, the passengers on board, and the jetliner's crew, the search and rescue effort began. It called for descent in altitude, deviation from the scheduled flight pattern, and a certain amount of  increased "risk" with every passing minute.  In addition, it would delay the scheduled arrival of the flight, and present no little inconvenience to the passengers on board.  Accordingly, the movie was entitled "Flight 511:  Mission of Mercy."   As I watched, I was touched by the concern that so many had for this lost pilot, and all that went  into this most unusual search and rescue effort.

When our God created man, along with heaven's crowning achievement He began a mission of mercy that had been planned from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  Somewhere in the immense universe, the world and its two lonely inhabitants sped on toward eternity, both lost, without hope, separated from the Creator as a result of sin (Isa. 59:1-2).  But God in His infinite and eternal wisdom, began the journey toward the cross  (Eph. 3:10-11).  God was not obligated to save man; but because of His longsuffering, "not wishing that any should perish" (2 Pet. 3:9), He "struck out for Pentecost."  Even while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), God in His immense love, began to enact His wonderful plan, that paradise might be restored and that all men might be reconciled to Him (2 Cor. 5:20).  Was it a mission of mercy?  Indeed!  Only His eternal love made Him act in our behalf.  For approximately 4,000 years that plan unfolded.  In types and shadows of the good things to come (Heb. 10:1), through the prophets, "in divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb 1:1), God unfolded and enacted His wonderful mission. Then in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), stage two of heaven's mission of mercy began.

In His great love, our Lord surrendered the riches of heaven that were His to enjoy, and He took upon Himself "the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man" (Phil 2:5-8).  Nestled in the womb of Mary, our Lord's human body developed and grew, until that moment when heaven's angels announced to the shepherds that indeed "there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).  In time, "Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52), until the moment when He fulfilled all righteousness in submitting to John's baptism, and the voice out of the heavens announced, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).  For three and one half years, Immanuel, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23), trod the face of His own creation, speaking with all authority, and manifesting the wonderful compassion of heaven's Godhead Three with miracles of healing, and the promise of life eternal.  Aware of the ultimate price that would have to be paid, our Lord maintained steadfastness, and was "faithful to him that appointed him" (Heb 3:2).  The crucial moment in heaven's mission of mercy came in the night when our Saviour entered the garden to seek strength that the mission might not be aborted. If there was any other way, He desired that the "cup" might pass from Him (Matt. 26:39).  So earnest were His cries to the Father that "his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44).  Were the mission to succeed, the Son of David would have to taste of death for every man (Heb. 2:9).  But the Son of God would not simply die; He would not close His eyes in peaceful sleep, for the death which He would face would be the "death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).  Yes, the mission of mercy had a price. If lost humanity was to be redeemed, it would not be with "silver and gold...but with the precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  And so, because of His great love for you and me, our Lord went to the cross.  Nailed between two thieves, He suffered excruciating pain for six long hours.  Look at the Savior, beloved, and whisper again those words: "mission of mercy."  Now the price was paid!  God's wrath could be satisfied.  The mission was almost complete. With His dying breath, our Lord could truly say, so far as His part was concerned, "It is finished"   (John 19:30). 

There was yet more to be accomplished before the mission could be complete.  Yea, much more.  To the consternation of Satan, and in answer to the angels who in wonder and amazement had desired to "look into" these things (1 Pet. 1:12), Jesus burst the bonds of death, and was "declared to be the Son of God with the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4).   Enthroned at the right hand of God, our King reigns in righteousness.  In fulfillment of His promise, step three of the mission of mercy could now be initiated.  The Holy Spirit, in faithful obedience to the eternal plan, could now be sent forth from heaven to "guide the apostles into all the truth" (John 16:13).  This He did, and the words of the mystery were "written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Floundering in the sea of sin, lost humanity now has a "lamp" and "light" to show the way (Psa. 119:105).  How grateful we should be that God, in His wonderful wisdom, and in His eternal plan, saw fit to record these things that we might be able to read and come to understand the mystery of man's redemption (Eph 3:3-5). 

For almost 2,000 years the lighthouse of the Gospel has cast its beam across the treacherous sea of life's perilous journey, pointing the way for lost humanity unto the shores of safety.  The torch has been passed to this generation, and we must not, we cannot let the flame be extinguished.  Heaven's mission of mercy is depending on you and me to "Go...into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).  Let us go forth with the life saving Gospel, and continue with zeal and determination, heaven's mission of mercy.

Passing By Graceland

by Tom Wacaster

Highway 51 once served as the major thoroughfare from Memphis, Tennessee to the quite community of Southaven, Mississippi.  Prior to the building of the massive Interstate Highway system, that little country road leading from Memphis into Mississippi was occupied by small town travelers, truckers, and farmers taking their goods to market in Memphis.  In the late 1950's that little highway gained a considerable degree of notoriety when Elvis Presley built and occupied Graceland, where he lived until his death on August 16, 1977.  I am not an Elvis fan, nor have I ever had the desire to visit Graceland.  But this past week I had the opportunity to drive past Graceland Mansion on my way to Southaven, Mississippi to attend the Power Lectures.  Rather than take I-55 loop around the south side of Memphis, and on south into Mississippi, I exited at Highway 51 and made the turn south that would take me past Graceland. 

In one more week Memphis will celebrate "Elvis Week," but loyal fans have already started to gather, and the sidewalks in front of Graceland Mansion were literally filled with tourists and sight seers.   Off in the distance I could see the "Lisa Marie," Elvis' private jet. The rooftop of the Mansion was visible, and here and there you could catch a glimpse of the well manicured lawn.  There was a convertible pink Cadillac on display near the highway.  Motels displayed their never-ending loyalty on their curb side marquee: "The King still lives," and "Forever dedicated to his memory."  Placards were displayed by loyal fans, "I love Elvis"; "Elvis still lives"; "Elvis, we will always love you."  Not too far distant from Graceland estate one can check into "Heart Break Hotel," or browse the souvenir shops that are found on what is now known as Elvis Presley Boulevard. 

Fans and fanatics can be seen perusing the shops, or standing in line to purchase a ticket to Graceland.  Elvis-look-alikes wander up and down the sidewalks, seeking to imitate "the King," not only in their dress, but in their hair style and mannerisms - seeking to walk as he walked, and no doubt to talk as he talked.   I managed to maneuver the traffic, and eventually cross the state line into Mississippi for the short two or three mile drive to the church building in Southaven.  That may very well be the closest I ever come to Graceland.  But passing by Graceland I was made to think.

First, Elvis Presley would trade all that was on display at Graceland for one more opportunity to hear and obey God's word.  Though "the king" occasionally paid lip service to the King of kings, the life of the rich and famous rock star was not a life of the righteous, and his neglected opportunities finally caught up with him on that summer day in 1977.  At his death his private jet served him no purpose as he made his flight into eternity.  His millions of fans could not go with him through the valley of the shadow of death.  His cash and costumes were all left behind, and never again would he walk the halls of Graceland Mansion. It is comforting to know that when it comes my time to walk the path of all men that I will have a Shepherd Who will go with me through the valley of the shadow of death (Psa 23:4).  I am confident that when it comes time for me to pass to that hadean realm that I will have no regrets for how I have lived my life; no desire for another chance.  There are untold millions who have passed beyond the boundary of life and, like the rich man in torments, wish they could go back and live life again.  I suspect "the king" will be among that number.    

Second, greatness is not measured in terms of the earthly.  Someone pointed out that Elvis Presley is the typical American success story.  In a few brief years he rose from poverty to riches; from obscurity to fame; from a life of simplicity to a life of stardom.  By human standards, Mr. Presley was truly successful.  But success cannot be measured in dollars and cents.  Personally, I have no desire to give up my peace of mind for popularity and the pressing crowds seeking to get a glimpse at your face, or a piece of your clothing.   What I saw of Graceland Mansion was impressive, and the gold platinum records and rewards that fill the late Elvis Presley's trophy room would likely draw rapt attention from those who tour the grounds of Graceland Mansion.   Many folks desire the same kind of "greatness" that Elvis acquired in his lifetime; far less ever attain unto it.  The saint, on the other hand, aspires for greatness in the sight of God. Their one desire is to hear their Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).  That will be true greatness.

Third, it is utterly amazing the degree to which some of Elvis fans will go to pay tribute to their "king."  One web site pointed out that an annual procession through the estate and past Elvis' grave is held on the anniversary of his death each year. The largest gathering assembled on the 25th anniversary in 2002. One estimate was that 40,000 people were in attendance, despite the heavy rain.  But the extent of fanatical fan loyalty is captured in those handfuls of men (and even women) who seek to imitate the man's every action.  Elvis-look-alikes attempt to dress like Elvis dressed, to speak with the same accent and pronunciation of words.  To all such fans, the essence of life is summed up in the one goal in life - to be as much like Elvis Presley as is humanly possible.  I have no desire to imitate "the king" of rock and roll.  But I do have a burning desire to imitate my Lord, to "have this mind that was in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5 ff), to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21), to love as He loved, think as He thought, and act as He acted.

Finally, as I watched Graceland fade from view in my rear view mirror I thought, "How different is MY King!"  They serve an earthly king; I serve a heavenly.  They serve a man; I serve God.   They serve someone whose life was dedicated to sensual pleasure; I serve a King whose life was dedicated to brining men redemption and salvation.  They serve a dead king; I serve a Living King. Someday every tongue shall confess and every knee shall bow - not to Elvis - but to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Graceland Mansion may very well be worth taking the time to visit - but I for one will look forward to that time when I don't just visit the Mansion of my dreams, but pack up and move into that Mansion my Lord has prepared for me and for all those who have loved His appearing.   Meanwhile, I think I'll be content to pass by Graceland on my way to my heavenly home.

Good Works And Our Purpose

by Tom Wacaster

Paul told Titus, "And let our people also learn to maintain good works for necessary purposes, that they be not unfruitful" (Titus 3:14), "in all things showing thyself an ensample of good works" (2:6).   Christ, our example, "went about doing good....and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38).  While good works are both "necessary" and beneficial it is important that our good works be kept in proper perspective.  Luke informed us that Jesus "came to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).  Our Lord never lost sight of that purpose.  His miracles of compassion in which He provided bread to the multitudes, restored sight to the blind, and gave physical health to the infirm, were never isolated from the purpose for which He came.  His was a ministry of reconciliation; not social reformation.  He did not come to clean up the slums, but to cleanse our soul from sin. 

This is not to say that social benefits will not derive from a wide scale application of godly principles to the whole of any civilization. Where the gospel has gone, been embraced and applied by the majority of any people, the standard of living has generally improved.  In view of the fact that the church is the body of Christ, it is only reasonable that our purpose is closely identified with His purpose.  In fact Paul informs us that God has given unto us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).   The charge to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) is a commission, not simply permission.   Here is the purpose, the end, the reason if you will, for our very existence as the church of Jesus Christ.  Lose sight of this truth, and we start down the road that leads to eventual self destruction. 

Let history teach us a lesson here.  The 18th and 19th century witnessed a dramatic impact on the western world with the advent of the "great awakening."  Spiritual revival swept our own nation as a wild fire from the east coast to the west.  But with the beginning of the 20th century, the liberal Protestant churches began to turn away from the proclamation of the gospel (however limited their concept may have been of that gospel), and turned their attention instead to finding a solution to the social ills of society.  Instead of preaching the spiritual truths of the Bible they turned their attention to meeting the material needs of physical man.  Thus the birth of the "social emphasis" in religious circles.  With this new ideology the human race would enter a new era, and this earth (so they claimed) would become a utopia.  A century has demonstrated the utter failure of such emphasis.   Those denominations who accepted this new emphasis upon the physical to the neglect of the spiritual, had the very life choked out of them. They ceased to be evangelistic.  Any awareness of lost souls about them gradually disappeared, missionaries were brought home, and the physical took precedence over the spiritual.  As a result, worship became ritualistic and attendance declined in many of the main line denominations. 

All the while these "churches" were doing great works.  Some of those main line denominations have learned the lesson, and are retracing their steps.  Unfortunately,  some of our brethren have yet to learn the lessons of history and holy writ.  It disturbs me when we hear of brethren having some sort of a public program to wash windows, or mow lawns of their neighbors.  The cry goes forth that there should be some sort of a joint effort among the area congregations to have a "house painting" campaign, and reach out to our needy neighbors and scrape and paint their old worn out, neglected houses.   Rather than glory in the cross, we glory in our good works.  One congregation bragged about their sponsorship of a young man on a campaign to some foreign country.  When the young man returned did he tell of souls baptized into Christ?  Was another congregation started in some remote part of the world?  Nothing was said with regard to the spiritual success of that "missionary journey." Instead we hear how this young man taught a bunch of would-be sport stars how to play basketball.  We hear of bread lines, soup kitchens, and "impact" churches marching forward with those things necessary to improve the physical and temporal lot of man while here on the earth.   Now, before you brand me as radical, hard-hearted, cruel and unloving, please hear me out.  

Good works are "necessary," as Paul commanded Titus.  But beloved, we could wash every window in town, mow all the yards of every shut in, and provide taxi service for the elderly and impoverished, feed the needy, and yet eventually see every single one of them lost in eternity, unless the gospel is preached to their starving soul.  When I was growing up, congregations emphasized Bible study, personal work, cottage classes, and gospel meetings.  When we would visit a sister congregation, we would find tracts in the foyer, and hear of souls baptized.  The emphasis was most definitely on the spiritual man.  And when some good work was done, it was usually done in secret, as a gesture of love and kindness from one who has learned to love his fellow man. Our generation has seen a gradual abandonment of gospel meetings for specialized "workshops" that deal with marriage relationships, child rearing, and/or other personal needs.  All of these are good, and admittedly they are needed, but they must not become the focus of our work, as if they accomplish the purpose for which we have been called into the body of Christ.  The appeal to the physical by "entertainment oriented" programs has gained popularity. We are not here to entertain, we are here to bring men to their knees, to prick the hearts of men, and bring about a reform of the inner man so that men will bow at the feet of Jesus and cry out, "What must we do to be saved?"   This is our sole purpose while sojourning in this wilderness.  Those who have cast their lot toward "Sodom" where the physical is emphasized will, like Lot, find themselves living with the wicked and reaping the consequences.  May we never fail to hold forth the word of light to a lost and dying world.  This is the ONLY POWER that will successfully draw men to the cross of Christ.