Life's Tests

by Tom Wacaster
  
My data mail server recently sent out a “test email” to all of our subscribers which read as follows:

“This is the tech support for Tom's Pen list. Please indulge me with this test message. Just trying to solve some problems.  Mailing List Powered by Dada Mail”

Perhaps some explanation is in order.  The weekly “Tom’s Pen” that I send out cannot be generated using my AOL account or Yahoo account due to the large number of addresses to which the article is sent.   Hence, the need for the “data mail” service from which you received the “test message.”  Evidently brother Watkins (my data mail server) saw a need to do some work on the data mail service having to do with my account, and thus the reason why you received the “test e-mail.”    Interestingly, a number of you have responded by sending me an email, for which I am grateful; it lets me know that my “subscribers” continue to have an interest in receiving my weekly “Tom’s Pen.”    I will not try to respond to each one of you who sent me an email; the list is too long.  But I will use the occasion to focus on some lessons we might learn from this “teachable moment” (as some are wont to say).

Tests, for the most part, are an inconvenient part of life.  School children do not like to take tests; a patient, prior to proper medical treatment, has to go through what may seem to be a senseless and unending series of tests; the mechanic often has to “test” his work to assure good quality in his craftsmanship.    Tests take time, and in some cases a considerable amount of expense is involved.   However, most of us will admit that tests are valuable.  Who would want to fly in an airplane that had never been tested?   Or who would want to enter into surgery without the benefit of all those pesky little “tests” we have to go through?  I think we know the answer.    

Over the past two or three decades various forms of testing have come under fire by those who would seek to be politically correct.  In some circles it is not “politically correct” to give tests to children at school lest we damage their ego and self awareness.   Qualifications for a job position have often been compromised and in many instances unqualified personal fill positions at work all because management does not want to “offend” his constituents.   The downward spiral of the lack of responsibility among the citizens of this country (or any country) is related in no small way to the unwillingness of leaders to apply the necessary tests in any given circumstance.  The results have been (and will continue to be) disastrous.

Spiritually speaking, every soul (saint and sinner alike) must face those “tests” that come our way throughout our life.  Job faced some of the most severe tests of life imaginable.  You and I are admonished to “prove the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).  We are to “try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cr. 13:5a).   We are to “prove all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:24).   You see friend, testing really is an important part of life.   We must test every activity, every word, and every thought in the light of God’s word.    Only then will be able to stand before the judgment seat of Christ on that great day with the full assurance that we will pass the one great test that will determine our eternal destiny.  That, my friend, is a most sobering thought. 

When The Euphrates Dries Up

by Tom Wacaster
  
Revelation chapter eight ends with the sobering words, “And I saw, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound” (Rev. 8:13).  Three woes would come upon “them that dwell on the earth.”  The doomsday prognosticators would have us believe that John is describing some far off event in which the world and all mankind will be engulfed in a catastrophe too horrible to describe; an event that would immediately precede the return of Christ.  They view the apocalypse through the eyes of a materialistic mind-set and fail to grasp the message God intended for the readers of this book.   In keeping with the figurative language of the book of Revelation, John warns those who are earthly in their thinking, who seek not the things that are above, that they will, if they persist in their sin, bring upon themselves sorrow and woes of indescribable nature. Such are those who “dwell on the earth.”   The “woes” of chapter nine are self inflicted and come upon humanity as a result of their rejection of God’s word and/or their obstinate rebellion against the Father.  The “smoke out of the abyss” (9:2-3) is John’s way of describing the woes that come upon men as a consequence of their determination to allow error and false philosophy to blind them to the truth (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3-4).  Once blinded, all that awaits is the horrible “sting” of sin from the “locusts” that will descend upon them.  Satan and his allies will rush down upon those who have turned their back on God and His word like horsemen prepared for war, and the final outcome will be complete defeat for those ill prepared to meet the onslaught of the devil and his forces.   

The second woe in Revelation chapter nine envisions a situation in any given society wherein the righteous element is no longer strong enough to ward off the devil and his evil intentions.  The preserving element will have disappeared and the only thing that awaits a nation at that point is God’s complete wrath.   At that point the “four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates” will be “loosed,” and divine judgment will descend upon men (Rev. 9:13-15).  There are those who would suggest that the “Euphrates” represents the dividing line between the people of God and the people of the world. That river was the eastern most boundary of the Promised Land.  Once the Euphrates dried up, the enemy would have easy and unrestricted access into the land where God’s people once dwelt.  In like manner, our “Euphrates” is the holiness of God’s people.  Our “Euphrates” is the line of demarcation that separates us from the world, a line that marks us as being distinctive, holy, and the “peculiar” people God so desires us to be.   When our “Euphrates” is breeched, there is nothing to hold back the full release of sin and the onslaught of the enemy.  If we take this position then this sixth woe describes a world where that dividing line between God’s people and the people of the world is no longer distinguishable.  The righteous “remnant” is no longer able to hold back the evil that would engulf the world with this horrible “woe.”  The same kind of situation existed when God destroyed the word with the flood (cf. Gen. 6:5).  Prior to the destruction of evil men in the flood, the “Euphrates” (figuratively speaking) had been dried up, and the world had reached such a state of evil that God’s longsuffering finally ran out.  Wicked men had turned so far away from God that the thoughts and intents of their hearts were only evil continually.  When men reach such a state of ungodliness, God’s wrath will no longer be restrained. 

I wonder – has the “Euphrates” dried up in America?  Has the “preserving element” that allows God’s mercy to forego divine judgment in hopes that men will repent disappeared?   Is the church having a leavening influence upon society?  Or have we allowed the word to corrupt the church?  Have we become so much like the world around us that for all practical intents and purposes we have allowed the Euphrates to dry up?  Yes, I wonder!


Forsaking The Assembly

by Tom Wacaster
  
My travels in raising funds, giving reports, and filling in preaching at various locations has reminded me that our brethren continue to struggle with faithful attendance.  I have visited congregations where the drop in attendance from Sunday morning to Sunday evening is shameful.  A number of years ago I visited a congregation in Texas where the Sunday morning attendance was more than 80, and the evening attendance was only 15% of the morning figure.  Such was not due to sickness, or travels, or some kind of emergency.  That was, as one of the members noted, the regular practice; or what the inspired writer referred to as the “custom.”  On the other hand, I have visited congregations where the difference between morning and evening worship is only minimal, and that on a regular basis.  But for the most part, the average decline between AM and PM worship runs somewhere around 30% (give or take a percentage).    The admonition that we “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; not forsaking our own assembling together…but exhorting one another” largely goes unheeded by many a weak saint.   

While there are certainly exceptions due to age, health, and perhaps travel obligations, those who miss Sunday evening services do so because they “choose” to be absent.  The heart is the seat of all actions, and where the heart leads the feet are swift to follow.  Habitual absenteeism is a heart problem.  It is reflected in the neglect and apathy regarding the works of the church, and is manifest in the neglect of the worship assembly.   In my commentary “Studies in Hebrews,” I included the following excellent quotes from good brethren who have addressed this problem that plagues God's people in every generation:

If we never determine the day here covered, it will not lessen one degree the divine prohibition, 'not forsaking our own assembling together,' which unto this day is still a custom of too many and a curse within the church. The fact that many do it with clock-like regularity but adds weight to the Hebrew writer calling it a custom.  It is a public sin that needs a public confession with penitence to correct it. This is as much a 'not' as those found in Romans 13:9. As we are not to commit adultery, nor kill, nor steal, so we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together....Far more than just the missing, it is the attitude one must have toward the Master that led him to miss which crowns this act with shame. We do not love the Lord, His Church, His Word, His worship, His service and sacrifice as we should or we wouldn't miss! Some, in order to emphasize the grace of God, tend to justify 'missing a few services' or 'missing now and then,' or 'if missing one time would condemn us, then none of us will make it.' The inherent danger here causes us to raise and answer some questions lest some be deceived into thinking they can 'get away' with some known violations (Dayton Keesee). 

Perhaps there is nothing so much needed in current America as a return to the old-fashioned virtue of church attendance.  Our beloved nation was founded by a generation of church-goers; and, although the Puritans and the settlers at Jamestown have been made to appear rather ridiculous in contemporary literature, being hailed as dull, hypocritical, and intolerant; it is nevertheless true that such a caricature is false.  They were not dull or uninteresting.  The eloquent literature of those far-off days denies the current slanders against that generation of spiritual giants who lived on the highest plane of religious conviction, whose emotions ebbed and flowed with the tides of eternity, and whose men of letters, such as Whittier, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, captured in their writings the immortal loveliness of that people.  Moreover, as the noted radio preacher, Charles L. Goodell, said, 'Wherever there is a town meeting house, a free school, a free church, or an open Bible, those forbears of ours might lay their hands upon them and say, `All these are our children'.'  Our greatest institutions are the fruits of their church-going; and when any generation shall forsake the house of prayer and worship, that generation is dangerously near to losing those institutions inherited through the piety of others.  As for the cliché that 'mere church attendance' is without value, we do not speak of 'mere' church attendance, but of wholehearted, sincere, devout, and faithful public worship of Almighty God through Christ; and as for the falsehood that people can worship God anywhere they are, it is refuted by the fact that they don't!  When people do not attend worship, they do not give, nor pray, nor sing God's praise, nor observe the Lord's Supper, nor study the sacred scriptures, all of which things are related to the public worship and have practically no existence apart from it. Then let people heed the commandment in this verse that they should not forsake the assembly of the church; and the fact that some do, as was the case then, is no permission for the faithful to follow an unfaithful example.  Reasons why people forsake the assembly are rationally explained, ardently advocated by them that wish to defect, and established with all kinds of charges, excuses, allegations, and insinuations against the church; but the only true reason for disobeying this basic commandment is simply unbelief, or the carelessness and sin which lead to unbelief (Coffman, page 235). 

The various reasons that men offer for missing the services are ludicrous to say the least.  When business, recreation, personal desires, unexpected company, bad weather, et al, are offered to others as a "legitimate" excuse for absenting one from worship to God, it sends forth the message (whether intended or not) that these things are more important than one's devotion and worship to God. 

There is one more item that needs to be addressed before we close this week’s column.  The neglect of the assembly will eventually lead the neglect in other spiritual responsibilities that rest upon the child of God.  Forsaking the assembly is only the first step into the far country; the journey away from God, once begun, will eventually lead the man into the proverbial spiritual (and moral) pigpen.  Such is the inevitable consequence of forsaking the assembly! Think about it!