The Power of Encouragement

by Tom Wacaster
  
Solomon said, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11). An encouraging word can bring victory out of the jaws of defeat. Legion are those who, exhausted and defeated, have rebounded to great heights because of one little word of encouragement. I was reminded of the power of encouragement this week when I came across this little story in the archives of my file system:

It was the day for field trials at the grade school. Various of the young boys were competing with each other to excel in the various sports. The event at hand was chinning or 'pull-ups.' The first boy strolled up to the bars and pulled himself up ten times, rather confident he would win. His opponent, Kenneth, came with less certainty. And when he had chinned the eighth time, he thought he was beaten. Finally with much pain, he managed to slowly drag his chin above the bars for the ninth time. And with a child's sense of tragedy, he thought he could not even tie the other boy. But from somewhere down in the depths of a child's courage, he pulled himself up one more time to tie his opponent. As pain racked the entire upper half of his body, he lowered himself to quit. Then a little girl's voice from the crowd, an admirer - perhaps his best girl - said with tearful eyes and urgent throbbing voice above the shouts of the other children, 'One more time, Kenneth!' Her voice was like an electric shock across his face. From somewhere deep within his being there was a call as old as humanity. Reserves of strength poured through his body. And with the determined frown of a grown man he dragged himself up for the final and winning pull-up and then collapsed happily on the ground.

Someone once said, "We live by encouragement, and we die without it - slowly, sadly, and angrily." A simple word of encouragement may very well make the difference between defeat and victory, between failure and success. Parents who constantly belittle their children, or preachers who habitually berate the congregation seem to have lost sight of the power of a word of encouragement now and then. Perhaps it would do all of us a world of good to capture the sentiments of this poet:

YOUR EAR, A SMILE, AND A HAPPY WORD

If you see somebody having a rough day,
If you see somebody struggling on the way,
If you see somebody with a broken heart,
If you see somebody whose world's come apart,
If you see somebody who's tossed to and fro,
If you see somebody whose back is bent low,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.
If you see somebody who's fighting with sin,
If you see somebody despised by all men,
If you see somebody who has lost his way,
If you see somebody with too much to pay,
If you see somebody who's wandering about,
If you see somebody who's struggling with doubt,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.
If you see somebody downtrodden and sad,
If you see somebody that the world counts mad',
If you see somebody confused and distraught,
If you see somebody who's suffering for naught,
If you see somebody whom life's left behind,
If you see somebody with a troubled mind,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.
If you see somebody who's doing all right,
If you see somebody whose burden is light,
If you see somebody with no pain or care,
If you see somebody who's loved everywhere,
If you see somebody not troubled with sin,
If you see somebody who's loved by all men,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.

H. L. Gradowith

Boxing With God

by Tom Wacaster
  
Boxing is not as popular as it was in the last century.  Great pugilists such as Cacius Clay (Mohammed Ali), Joe Lewis, and George Foreman were as well known as popular baseball greats or football heroes of today.  Old men often talk of the “fight of the century,” or the “match at Madison Square Garden that would go down in history.”  As great as some of those boxing contests might have been, they pale in comparison to the TKO that God gave Pharaoh as recorded in Exodus chapter 14.    In order to appreciate the points we will make in this week’s “Tom’s Pen,” let me encourage you to take just a moment and read Exodus 14:15-31, for it is in that chapter that we read of Pharaoh’s final attempt to thwart the purpose and plan of God.  The very words thrill our soul and encourage us!  What must it have been like for those who were there?  What impression did it leave on their hearts and minds?  This passage might very well be divided into the following homiletic outline:  (1) Pharaoh’s Fist, 14:5-10; (2) Israel’s Fear, 14:11-12; (3) Moses’ Faith, 14:13-14; (4) God’s Fight, 14:15-21; (5) Pharaoh’s Foolishness, 14:23-28; and (5) Israel’s Faith, 14:22 and 29-31.  It is the fourth point where we find Pharaoh boxing with God.

It has been at least four decades since I heard a sermon titled, “Boxing with God.”  Today I could not give you the details of that sermon, or the date when I heard it.  But the title of that sermon made a lasting impression upon me at that time, so much so that I find myself often thinking of the foolishness of men who have found themselves “boxing with God.”  Pharaoh had “climbed into the ring” with God, and that arrogant and rebellious king would soon realize that he was “boxing with God.”  God would knock Pharaoh out in three swift punches. First, God opened a way for Israel’s deliverance and the means of Pharaoh’s destruction.  “Stretch out thine had over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (14:16).  That same open sea, and dry ground, would tempt Pharaoh to “follow them,” but this to his ultimate destruction.  Second, God stood between Pharaoh and Israel, providing a fire of light to Israel, and a cloud of darkness to their enemies (14:19-20).  God protected Israel while fighting Pharaoh, “so that the one came not near the other all night” (14:20).  Third, God “troubled the host of the Egyptians” (14:24).  The Hebrew ‘hamam’ means “to put in commotion, to disturb, crush, discomfit, or vex” (Strong).   This would be followed by the complete destruction of Pharaoh’s army with the flood waters of the Red Sea as they returned upon these enemies of God.  With a one-two-three punch, God rescued Israel and destroyed their enemies so that they would “see them again no more forever” (14:13). 

There is an important truth that emerges from this incident.  Pharaoh is an example of the masses of humanity who have, in their persistent rebellion against God, passed the point of no return in their rebellion and opposition to the Almighty and who will, on that final Judgment Day, find themselves the recipients of God’s knock-out blow to all of His enemies.  There is a day coming, when all of the enemies of God shall be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).  The atheists and agnostics, the greedy and the godless, the enemies and enraged antagonists of God Almighty shall meet their Maker as did Pharaoh of old.  In that day the abortionist will know that life began at conception. In that day every evolutionist (theistic evolutionists included) will know that the Biblical account is precisely how it all began.  In that day every Senator and Representative in Washington will know you cannot govern a nation without the aid and blessing of Jehovah God.  In that day, when we, as God’s people, are received into heaven and the arrogant and antagonistic enemies of God are overwhelmed in the fiery flood that shall come upon them, we will realize that our struggles have been worth it all.   When time gives way to eternity, and this world and all therein is burned up (2 Peter 3:10-12), you and I will sit at the feet of the God who has redeemed us, and we will not only sing the song of Moses – we will sing the song of Moses and the Lamb for all eternity!  Won’t that be a grand day?

Commitment

by Tom Wacaster
  
Lafayette, the Frenchman, is remembered in the history books as a bold, courageous individual.  During the French Revolution he was dismissed from the army.  He tried to escape to America, but was captured and imprisoned in Germany.  It is reported that he was offered freedom on the condition that he join the conspiracy against France.  Even though he was threatened with long confinement in prison should he refuse to cooperate, Lafayette replied:  "Never! I am still Lafayette."    History is replete with examples  of courage, heroism, and determination on the part of men and women who were willing to give their lives for a cause.  The framers of our declaration of independence were men of such character and determination.  They knew that if they won the battle for freedom that the best they could expect would be years of hardship in a struggling nation.  If they lost, the best they could look forward to was the end of a hangman's rope.  But because of commitment and sheer determination for a cause they considered worth more than life itself, they engaged the battle, and won for our nation its desired freedom.    Such commitment is lacking in our society. Rare is the man or woman who can be depended upon to follow through with their promise.   For example, a baseball player might make a "commitment" to honor a contract for some specified salary, only to "renegotiate" that contract after one year of service.   Marriage ceremonies, in many instances, have removed the phrase "for better or for worse, till death do us part" because of a lack of commitment on the part of either party.  Financial indebtedness finds an easy out through chapter eleven bankruptcies, and companies usher out the 20 or 30 year employee with an early retirement.   The problem lies in a lack of commitment.  

Heaven's call for commitment on the part of the child of God is best stated by our Lord in Matthew 5:33-37.  Yes, there were some who would swear with an oath that they would do thus and so.  Some swore by heaven, but in their mind the oath was not binding.  Others would swear by the throne of God, but that too was like playing games with one's fellow man.  It was sort of like the little game that we played when we were children where we would cross our fingers behind our back while making a promise - we were so immature that we thought that crossing the fingers relieved us of any obligation to keep the promise.  These were the games that dishonest men and women played with God.    But the Son of God tells us, "Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one" (Matthew 5:37).  It seems to me that there are entirely too many Christians who play this silly game of making promises with little or no intention of following through on our commitment.   "Yes God, I give my life to you!  I surrender to You and Your cause!"  Out front we make promises, and put on a great show with our oaths of dedication and determination.  But all the while, we have our spiritual fingers crossed, knowing full well that if something should "come up" that interfers with my service to God, then the promise is not really that binding.  The problem lies in a lack of commitment.

When our Lord returns to gather us into the eternal abode that is reserved for those who have followed through on their commitment, there will be a great host on that Day who will be somewhat surprised that the reward will not be theirs to enjoy (Matthew 7:13-14, 20-21).  The thorns will have choked out their faith, and the lack of determination to follow through with their once-made promise to serve the Master with all diligence will echo throughout eternity with the tragic words, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity; I never knew you."  The problem lies in a lack of commitment.

A Challenge to Atheists

by William Jennings Bryan
  
The following was taken from the address delivered by Mr.Bryan in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, Illinois, on May 4, 1911.
  
"Is the Bible the work of man, or is it an inspired book? Is it the product of human wisdom, or did its authors speak as they were commanded by the Lord? Atheists and materialists declare that it is merely the work of man; that it was written under the limitations that apply to human wisdom. Taking this position, they must necessarily contend that, unless man has degenerated in ability and declined in wisdom, he can now produce a book equal to the Bible. Let them produce it. Judged by human standards, man is far better prepared to write a Bible now than he was when our Bible was written.  The characters whose words and deeds are recorded in the Bible were members of a single race; they lived among the hills of Palestine in a territory scarcely larger than one of our counties. They did not have printing presses, and they lacked the learning of the schools; they had no great libraries to consult, no telegraph wires to bring them the news from the ends of the earth, and no newspaper to spread before them each morning the doings of the day before. Science had not unlocked Nature's door and revealed the secrets of rocks below and stars above. From what a scantily supplied storehouse of knowledge they had to draw, compared with the unlimited wealth of information at man's command today! And yet these Bible characters grapple with every problem that confronts mankind, from the creation of the world to eternal life beyond the tomb. They have given us a diagram of man's existence from the cradle to the grave, and they have set up sign posts at every dangerous point along the path. We turn back to the Bible for the Ten Commandments, which form the foundation for our statute law, and for the Sermon on the Mount, which lays down the rules for our spiritual growth. The Bible gives us the story of the birth, the words, the works, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Him whose coming was foretold in prophecy, whose arrival was announced by the angel voices, singing 'Peace and good-will' -- the story of Him who is the growing figure of all time, whom the world is accepting as Saviour and as the perfect example. Let the atheists and the materialists produce a better Bible than ours, if they can. Let them collect the best of their school to be found among the graduates of the universities -- as many as they please, and from every land. Let the members of this selected group travel where they will, consult such libraries as they please, and employ every modern means of swift communication. Let them glean in the fields of geology, botany, astronomy, biology, and zoology, and then roam at will wherever science has opened a way; let them take advantage of all the progress in art and in literature, in oratory and in history -- let them use to the full every instrumentality that is employed in modern civilization; and when they have exhausted every source, let them embody the results of their best intelligence in a book and offer it to the world as a substitute for this Bible of ours. Have they the confidence that the prophets of Baal had in their god? Will they try? If not, what excuse will they give? Has man fallen from his high estate, so that we cannot rightfully expect as much of him now as nineteen centuries ago? Or does the Bible come to us from a source that is higher than man -- which?"

The Old Watch

by Tom Wacaster

It has been a few years since the old watch quit working.  That old Timex watch succumbed to the ravages of time and age.  Contrary to popular belief, even the watch that "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" finally gave up the ghost.  I came across that old watch sometime back, and wondered why I had discarded it for a new one.   It did not take me long to remember why I put that which was nigh unto vanishing away into an old box in my closet in exchange for a new one at the local super market.   I could not rely upon the Timex.  The problem was not that it never ran.  It ran great - when it ran.  But for some reason when the long hand approached the 12, it would stick.  It never stuck in the same place either. Sometimes it was around the 10; at other times around the 11, or just shy of the 12.   Sometimes it would stick for just a second or two; more often than not, however, it stuck  for several minutes at a time.   So over the course of just a few hours the watch would be so far off time that it was, for all practical purposes, useless. 

I've known a lot of brethren that are like that old watch.  Every congregation has their fair share of unreliable members.  Oh, they run great when the hand is on the down side of 12.   But when it became an uphill struggle to reach the high mark, they would get stuck, bogged down on first one thing and then another.  When all is said and done, such brethren simply cannot be relied upon. 

Webster defines "reliable" as, "to rest with confidence, as when we are satisfied of the veracity, integrity, or ability of persons, or of the certainty of facts or of evidence; to trust with, on, or upon."  The Bible puts it this way:   "Who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? ..... He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" (Psalms 15:4).  Once a promise is made, even if circumstances should turn out to be not as ideal as we had anticipated, we are obligated to follow through on our commitment.  Even if it means our own "hurt."   While we may not be shocked at the lack of dependability of those who are not members of the Lord's body, we are taken aback at the increasing number of Christians who make promises, but fail to fulfill them.   Where is that once-faithful soul who swore allegiance to his or her Master but no longer attends faithfully?  What has happened to that would-be Bible class teacher who once said, "I'll teach," only to be among the growing number who cannot be depended upon to be present for class, much less to teach?  Where are those men who signed up to serve on the table, knowing full well that you can't depend upon them to be there when it comes time for them to serve.  All too often talent cards lay stacked in the church office, or entered into a computer. But when it comes time to pull names for service, like the nine ungrateful lepers, duty to one's Lord and Master has been relegated to the back burner, and trustworthiness has once again fallen upon hard times. 

I threw that watch away that day.  It was of no value to me whatsoever. On the judgment day, those who failed to follow through on their word will, like that old watch, be discarded by the Owner and Master of all mankind. 

The Indestructible Bible

by Tom Wacaster

The Bible is, without doubt, the greatest book ever written.  Consisting of 66 books, it stands as a monumental representation of heaven's love for mankind.  From the moment that God's word has gone forth to man, Satan has scrutinized, criticized, de-emphasized and sought to minimize the Holy word.  Critics have assailed its "contradictions" and "inconsistencies."  But the honest seeker knows that all such attempts to find fault with Scripture are mere subterfuge, and a whistling in the wind.  The Bible has survived the onslaught of critics, and the more scrutiny and examination the Bible receives, the more it shines.  A few years ago brother Curtis Cates wrote the following: 

"No book has ever been scrutinized so closely or vigorously, and, I might say, viciously.  The microscope and the telescope of man have been applied to 'the Book of books,' but the more close the investigation and the more detailed the study, the more beautiful its fabric. The productions of men undergo but a mere fraction of a fraction of such investigation; they are examined, riffled through, and somewhat rigorously tested at the mercy of mankind; and such results in their complete exhaustion and abandonment. Man moves on to other thoughts, other pursuits, and other works. Now, why does the Bible multiply in its beauty and complexity [as a snowflake or a butterfly wing under a microscope] as its innermost thoughts, precepts and principles are dissected and scrutinized?  That, my friend, is he difference between the meager and fallible works of finite man and the inexhaustible and vibrant revelation of the infinite Creator! 'The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul' (Psa. 19:7)."  

Beloved, we hold within our hands the map that can help us to successfully chart the troubled seas of life. It is the compass that will ultimately lead us across the Jordan into the Promised land. Have faith, weary pilgrim!  The Book is true, the Author trustworthy, and the hope sure and steadfast.  For this we give thanks, and to this end we have committed our very souls.  No doubt many of you have either read or heard the following, with which we will close this week’s article:

The Hammer And The Anvil
by John Clifford

Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith's door
And  heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
When looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.

"How many anvils have you had," said I,
"To wear and batter all these hammers so?"
"Just one," said he; then said with twinkling eye,
"The anvil wears the hammers out, you know."

And so, I thought, the anvil of God's word
For ages skeptics' blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed - the hammers gone!