What Do We Value In Times Of Distress?

by Tom Wacaster

Seventy-two hours before Hurricane Rita hit the Texas coast the warning was given to evacuate the Galveston-Houston area.  Not a few residents of Harris County had begun the evacuation several days earlier; others began packing bags and belongings as soon as the warning was given; still others delayed their departure for another 24 hours.  Those of us living miles removed from the threatened areas watched the media coverage, witnessing lines of automobiles attempting to move northward on Interstate 45, west on Interstate 10, or north on highway 59 - major evacuation routes in times of disaster.  After Katrina devastated the southern half of Louisiana and Mississippi a few weeks earlier, leaving in its wake massive flooding in New Orleans, the residents of Texas wanted nothing to do with what the victims of Katrina went through.  And so began the "exodus."  Major highways were clogged with more than two and a half million citizens fleeing the impending doom.  It turned into a monumental traffic jam, stretching more than 100 miles from Houston to Huntsville.  The pictures we saw on TV were astonishing, to say the least. 

What would you take with you if you were forced to flee your residence?  With short notice, limited space, and even less time, cars were packed and trailers loaded.  We learned that our massive evacuation plans in large metropolitan areas such as Houston needs some work.  But we also learned that people put stock in some of the strangest of "things" when it comes right down to saving what is really important to us.  According to a number of eye-witnesses, here are some of the things that Houstonians loaded into their cars, vans, and trucks, as they began their evacuation:  One man in a cowboy hat was seen with, what one witness called, "the biggest, ugliest recliner in the back of his pickup - nothing else - just this phenomenally ugly chair!"  A number of folks loaded up their trucks, attached second cars, boats, campers, and trailers - attempting to save as many of their material possessions as possible.  Many people brought their pets.  But what pets!  One man had a goat in a rather luxurious sport utility vehicle, chewing away at the seats and other items within its reach.   One woman actually was seen on the side of the road feeding her pet rat!  Why would anyone bring a rat?  Photo albums, ragged old quilts, the kids favorite blanket or toy - yes, these were the things people clung to in their time of distress. 

What did you notice about those "things"?  Maybe I'm missing something here, but most of the items that were reported as "top priority" in the list of things to carry were of no monetary value.  Most of that "stuff" was sentimental stuff.    One lady was reported to have gone through every room in her house, eventually picking out those things most important to her:  dishes, flatware, chipped and cracked old plates, bent spoons - things that described her own little world. 

But you know what?  All those "things" brought no comfort to that vast multitude of people caught up in the horror of the moment!  Some got fed up with the long lines at stations as they attempted to fill their automobile with gasoline.  Others became frustrated with the slow movement away from the impending face of danger.  It was what one writer described as "helplessness distilled to purity."  In the face of fear people reacted in different ways. Some became heroes; some acted like nothing more than animals. If I could venture a guess, I would say that those who put their trust in the "things" they carried with them were among those who turned on others in desperation, while those who valued life itself above all their material possessions were the same ones who helped others in need. 

The Bible has much to say about riches, wealth, and material possessions.  First, these are things that come from God, for He is the source of all our blessings.  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas. 1:17).  Second, material things are "uncertain" and "fleeting."  They can be blown away by a hurricane, stolen by a thief, or destroyed by fire.  Third, material possessions offer no comfort in the face of danger.  Many a man on the Titanic would have traded all he possessed for a simple life raft or boat.  Finally, those who are "minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Tim. 6:9). 

What if you and I had to depart with great haste from some impending danger? What would we carry with us?  Our computers? Televisions? Cash boxes, stocks and bonds, jewelry?  Or would we get our Bible, or some favorite commentary for reading and study?  It is a sobering question that comes to each of us:  "What do we value in times of distress?"

On A Hill Far Away

by Tom Wacaster

What is it about the cross of Christ that draws men to Jesus?  Surely it is not the fact that it was some instrument of death, for other means of execution remain to this day as symbols of only infamy and disgrace.  Who has ever written a song about the electric chair, or what poet has ever glorified the gas chamber or the hangman's noose?  But let men erect a cross in their yard, or display it upon a billboard, and immediately the attention of those who see that cross is drawn to one figure in history Who made that cruel instrument famous.  Let someone display an electric chair in the front of their yard and the onlooker might wonder why such a display.  But his attention would not be drawn to any particular figure in history.  But let a man put a cross in his yard and immediately those who pass by think of Christ and Christianity.  Even as I write these lines the ACLU is seeking to remove a war memorial in the state of California for no other reason than the fact that it is in the shape of a cross.  From the fields of Arlington Memorial Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to the beaches of Normandy, and around the world, grave yards have been graced with small crosses at the head of each tomb declaring the hope that men have in a resurrection - a resurrection found only in Christ, and made possible because of His death upon the cross.  Oh yes, "On a hill far away, Stood and old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame..."  For 2,000 years the cross of Christ has cast its beacon of hope across the tumultuous seas of human misery and sin, and the message of the gospel is so closely associated with that cross that to speak of the one is to bring to mind the other.  It has been nine centuries since Abbot Rupert wrote the following tribute to the cross of Christ:

"We venerate the cross as a safeguard of faith, as the strengthening of hope and the throne of love. It is the sign of mercy, the proof of forgiveness, the vehicle of grace and the banner of peace. We venerate the cross, because it has broken down our pride, shattered our envy, redeemed our sin and atoned for our punishment.  The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the  prize for our freedom. The cross was the hope of the patriarchs, the promise of the prophets, the triumph of kings and the ministry of priests. Tyrants are convicted by the cross and the mighty ones defeated, it lifts up the miserable and honors the poor. The cross is the end of darkness, the spreading of light, the flight of death, the ship of life and the kingdom of salvation" (http://www.rc.net/wcc/throne1.htm)

Dear friend, that cross, and all that it stands for demands some kind of response.  Men can ignore it, ridicule it, mock it, and seek to eliminate its presence, but in so doing they stumble over the One Who Himself said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32).  It has been more than twenty years since Lois Cheney wrote the following lines:

I once saw a cross so big
It was as high as the church
In front of which it stood.
It was made of railroad steel
And it was very dramatic,
And I was moved
And I was impressed
As I walked by and away from it.

I once saw a cross so lovely,
It was a work of art,
Carved and polished
It was made to look
Both strong and delicate,
And I was moved
And I was impressed
As I walked by and away from it.

There once was a cross
Not so high; not so lovely
It was not a work of art.
Rough, full of splinters
Uneven, unsymmetrical
Its simple  mystery
Unfathomable.
And I cannot walk by it
And I cannot walk away from it.




The Word of God Is Not Bound

by Tom Wacaster

Through the centuries skeptics have attempted to destroy or severely restrict the word of God. Jehoiakim took his penknife, cut the pages of God’s word, and cast them into the fire. When Antiochus Epiphanes became ruler in Syria in 175 B.C. he destroyed the temple, sold the people of Israel into slavery, and went about doing all within his power to do away with the sacred writings of the Jews. Emperor Diocletian decreed death for any person who owned a copy of the Bible. After two years he boasted that he had “completely exterminated the Christian writings from the face of the earth.” But when Constantine came to the throne and desired copies of the Bible be brought to him, within twenty-five hours fifty copies of God’s word were offered to the Emperor. Voltaire, the notorious French infidel, boasted that within one hundred years the Bible would be no more. It would not be long before the very press that printed the blasphemous prediction was used to print Bibles and the house in which he lived was later used by the Geneva Bible Society to store and distribute Bibles. Robert Ingersoll, famed American atheist of the 1800’s once held a Bible in his hand and boasted, “In fifteen years I will have this book in the morgue.” Within fifteen years Ingersoll was in the morgue, but the word of God lives on! Even today the atheist community is predicting that before this century comes to a close the Bible will be eradicated from the world.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel: wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:8-9). Though men have for ages sought to bind the word of God, inspiration tells us that at the time of Paul the word was not bound, and history has attested to the eternal truth of those words. The simple fact is, men will never successfully bind the word of God. They may, from time to time succeed in keeping it out of the public’s sight and/or sound. But it cannot be silenced! I suggest to you the following reasons.

First, the word cannot be bound because you cannot rob it of its power. Paul declared in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” There is power in the word of God that cannot be eradicated, eliminated or expunged. The parable of the sower is recorded in Matthew 13:1-9 and Luke 8:4-8. In making application the Lord said that the “seed is the word of God” (Lk. 8:11). A seed may sit on a shelf or in a package for centuries, but once it is planted, it will produce life. It has been three decades since the Associated Press reported that some archaeologist discovered some remnants of fruits and nuts in their exploration of a Han Dynasty tomb, which dates back to the first century A.D. Seeds discovered in some of the pottery was taken and planted and it produced tomatoes. Such is the power of a seed; and such is the power of the Gospel.

Second, the word cannot be bound because you cannot restrict its preaching. In 1992 I had the opportunity to travel to the former Soviet Union. There were four Americans and one Ukrainian brother who labored for thirteen days in Barnaul. After completing that work we traveled overnight by train to Omsk. Our Ukrainian brother shared the compartment next to myself with a Russian soldier traveling to the same destination. When it came time to turn out the lights and bed down for the night’s journey to Omsk, I could hear brother Kalashnikov preaching to that soldier; I knew he was preaching to him because I could recognize certain words that are similar in both English and Russian. The next morning I asked brother Kalashnikov if he was preaching to his room mate, and he said “yes.” “Did he listen?” I asked. To which brother Kalashnikov replied, “What choice did he have?” Men may make it illegal to preach publically or at some open air meeting; but they cannot control what goes on the privacy of one’s home or with an acquaintance with whom we might have casual conversation. The word of God went forth in the first century with great success in spite of every effort on the part of Rome to stop the preaching. So it was then; so it will be in every generation.

Finally, the word cannot be bound because you cannot retard its progress. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah our Father said long ago: “For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Some years ago I came across a very interesting story. A lady of a congregation in Arkansas had sent a copy of a World Bible School lesson to a student in Africa. It was found in the roadway by another person, who then searched for the church of Christ in his village. He was baptized two days later. What makes the story amazing is the fact that the lesson was mailed seven years before it was found. Time did not retard the progress of the word, and it eventually found its way into the presence and then into heart of the precious soul who was desirous of learning the truth. The same point was illustrated in the following true story which was related to me almost forty years ago. Someone was evidently handed a tract about the Lord’s church; but he or she, for some unknown reason, threw the tract into the waste basket and it eventually ended up on the curb waiting for the garbage man to carry it away. When the garbage man picked up the container (that was in the days when such was still done manually) the tract fell out on the ground. The garbage man picked up the tract, put it in his pocket, later read it, and eventually contacted a church of Christ, leading to his obedience to the gospel. The reason I know the story was true is that it was told me by the garbage collector himself. Happenstance? Coincidence? I prefer to attribute it to divine providence. Such is the power of the progress of the Gospel.

When Paul wrote those beautiful words to Timothy he set forth an eternal truth that gives comfort and consolation to those seeking to carry the gospel to a lost and dying world. As you carry that word to others, rest assured that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Separation

by Tom Wacaster

Ralph Nadar is credited with saying, “I don’t think meals have any business being deductible. I’m for separation of calories and corporations.”  In a humorous way Mr. Nadar captured the essence of this word “separation.”  Unfortunately, were someone to declare, “I’m separated,” most folks, were the person married, would immediately think of being separated from one’s spouse.  It may be that our culture of easy marriage and divorce has contributed to this being the most common use of the word “separated.”   

The “on line Bing dictionary” defines “separated” as:  “(1) living apart while married: no longer living together as a couple but still legally married; (2) positioned apart: moved apart so as not to be touching or connected, not together, or not in the same place; (3) divided: split into component parts.”  It is the second of these definitions that best represents the subject matter of this week’s article.   The Bible enjoins upon every child of God the sacred responsibility to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17a).   That obligation is expressed in a number of ways throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments alike.   “Put away,” “put to death,” “repent,” and “be converted” are but a few of the expressions used by inspired writers to communicate this sacred obligation.   In addition words such as “holy,” “saint,” “sanctified” all express the state or status of being separated.   Using 1 Peter 2 as a backdrop, let me suggest to you some truths relative to our being “separated” from the world.  

First, our separation from the world is one of sacred duty.  “Put away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking” (2:1).  Peter does not set forth an exhaustive list of all that is involved in our separation from the world.  In much the same way Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.  Both of these passages are representative of those things from which we are to separate ourselves.   But in both cases, the responsibility lies with the individual.  Sin will not be eradicated by some divine infusion of strength and resistance to temptation, but by a self determination to do the will of God.  

Second, we enjoy a special status with God.  We are “newborn babes” and as such are expected to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.  Spiritual growth is the product of time, opportunity, and effort all combined to produce the desired result.  While Peter does not address the time aspect here, the writer to the Hebrews did:  “For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teacher” (Heb. 5:12).   Moses is a good example of groth and maturity over a long span of time.  When Moses fled Egypt and came to the land of Midian you recall he encountered some ruffians at the well where the daughters of the priest of Midian had come to draw water.  After Moses drove off this gang of shepherds and watered the flocks of the women, the young women told their father that Moses was an “Egyptian” (Ex. 2:19).  But forty years later, when Moses returned to Egypt to deliver God’s people he was no longer looked upon as an Egyptian, but a Hebrew.  

Third, we feed upon spiritual milk in order to grow thereby.  That spiritual milk is “without guile” and provides the means by which we “grow thereby unto salvation.”  Paul rebuked the Corinthians for needing to be fed with “milk” and not “meat” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Were Paul and Peter contradicting one another?  There is no disagreement between the two apostles.  One of the key words throughout the epistles of Peter is that of growth.  In the passage before us he was evidently looking at the Christian journey of his audience from the standpoint of the beginning of that journey; as babes, rather than full grown men.   Whereas Paul was looking at the church at Corinth as those acting like babes when they should have been mature.  

Fourth,  we enjoy a solid foundation.  The church was built upon the Christ, not men; a rock, not a pebble (Matt. 16:16-18).  In 1 Peter 2:4-8 we see the stone described and the stone discarded.  The description of our Rock of Ages is set forth in words that exude strength and power.  Our Lord is a “living stone,” pointing no doubt to His resurrection and reign.  But He is also “precious.”  The word “precious” translates the Greek word ‘entimos’ which means “honored” or “prized.”  Peter sets forth a contrast between what men might do with Christ, and what God has done through Him.  God contradicted man’s verdict, declared Jesus as the Christ by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him.   We sometimes say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”  While the world may say there is “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2), our Father pronounced Him as “precious” and “chosen.”  The story is told that Michelangelo came across a discarded piece of marble. It had been ruined by some other sculptor and thrown into the scrap heap for some other use.  But Michelangelo looked it over, and saw in it his David.  He purchased it and turned it into one of his masterpieces. 

Fifth, we are a part of a spiritual house.  In fact, we are “living stones.”  Here Peter identifies the church as something other than the physical edifice which might appear on some street corner. The church is made up of the people.  As a house (2 Tim. 3:15), we are the dwelling place of God Himself, and Peter’s words suggest the wonderful fellowship we have with the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Sixth, we are described by special terms.  “An elect race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” and “a people for God’s own possession” all suggest distinction from the world.   In this wonderful description of God’s people we catch a glimpse of what we are (vs. 9), what we do (“show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”), and what we receive (“who in times past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy”).  

Separation!  We are separated from the world, separated  unto God, and we look forward to an eternal separation from the physical to the spiritual.  That, beloved, will be a wonderful day!