Gathered To His People


by Tom Wacaster

In Genesis 25:8, the following is recorded concerning Abraham: “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” One of the marks of divine inspiration is the concise manner in which the writers presented the facts regarding individuals and events. In slightly more than two dozen words in our English translations there are some amazing things said about this great patriarch and father of the faithful.

First, we learn that the grave is not the final abode of the soul. The expression “gathered to his people” is distinguished from simply departing from this life and being buried. If there is no life beyond the grave then these words make no sense whatsoever. The sentiments of the poet express this truth so well:

“A PSALM OF LIFE”
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Dust thou art, to dust returnst,
Was not spoken of the Soul.

Second, we learn that following death we will be reunited with our loved ones. Though some may disagree, it seems to me that when we pass beyond the portals of death we will be gathered into Abraham’s bosom and there enjoy reunion with those whom we know and love. The words of the inspired writer presuppose the reunion in that hadean world with friends who have gone before. Will we recognize our departed loved ones? How can be otherwise? The apostle Paul sought to comfort the Thessalonians by stating the simple truth that they “sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). It is the realization that we will see our loved ones again that provides comfort to those who have said their last goodbye this side of heaven.

Third, “gathered to his people” stands in stark contrast to the Bible’s description of the final destiny and abode of the wicked. Never is it said of an ungodly person, “he was gathered to his people.” Take Judas Iscariot for example. In the same concise manner as noted above, Peter had this to say of that infamous traitor during the process of selecting a man to replace Judas: “Show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 2:24-25, emphasis mine, TW). Whereas “gathered to his people” denotes reunion and fellowship, “that he might go to his own place” suggests solitude and loneliness. The faithful will join the host of godly men and women, knowing no doubt where they are, and enjoying the rest that will be theirs once they have passed through the gates of death. As for the ungodly, they will simply be resigned to their “own place” to await that final judgment day.

If you were you to enter eternity this day, perhaps even this hour, would it be said of you, “He went to his own place”? Or would your loved ones find solace in knowing, beyond any shadow of doubt, that you were “gathered to your people”?
~~~~~

Genuine Needs


by Tom Wacaster

The scenario is a common one. A family or individual is on their way to Anytown, USA, and for some reason they began the journey with inadequate funds, making the arduous journey in a broken down jalopy that couldn’t make it across town, much less across the country. I have never understood how someone traveling from point A to point B could end up in some of the small towns where I have done local work when in fact their destination was far removed from either point A or point B. But it happens time and again.  In fact, it has become so common place that one begins to question whether or not the “need” is genuine, or just another shyster taking advantage of those who are supposed to be compassionate of heart and generous with the Lord’s money. The same scenario is not limited to small towns; we have the same problem here in Fort Worth, and according to some of the preachers I visit with from time to time, it happens in Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, and even in remote Alaska, just to name a few of the locations where brethren experience the same situation. I must confess that I have mixed emotions every time we get such a request. It may be that I have seen the Lord’s church give, and give until it can no longer give, only to learn that in many cases that the need was NOT genuine. Volumes could be written on the promises such “needy cases” make: “I’ll visit your church services this Sunday!” “I’ll pay the money back as soon as I get a job and get settled in!” Like so many cookies, the promises are quickly made and easily broken. I have learned to take such promises with a grain of salt and a touch of skepticism.

Still, there are undoubtedly those occasions when someone expresses a truly genuine need. While it is true that none of us want to be “taken” by some shyster or con-man, neither would we want to neglect those cases when someone is genuinely in need of assistance; and that truly haunts me. It has been several years since Alan Smith addressed this same topic in a most enlightening way with the following story:

Robert De Vincenzo, the great Argentine golfer, once won a tournament and, after receiving the check and smiling for the cameras, he went to the clubhouse and prepared to leave.  Some time later, he walked alone to his car in the parking lot and was approached by a young woman. She congratulated him on his victory and then told him that her child was seriously ill and near death. She did not know how she could pay the doctor’s bills and hospital expenses. De Vincenzo was touched by her story, and he took out a  pen and endorsed his winning check for payment to the woman.  “Make some good days for the baby,” he said as he pressed the check into her hand. The next week he was having lunch in a country club when a Professional Golf Association official came to his table. “Some of the boys in the parking lot last week told me you met a young woman there after you won that tournament.”  De Vincenzo nodded.  “Well,” said the official, “I have news for you. She’s a phony. She has no sick baby. She’s not even married. She fleeced you, my friend.”  “You mean there is no baby who is dying?” said De Vincenzo.  “That’s right,” said the official. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” De Vincenzo said. 

Brother Smith then commented on the story, and his comments are as good as the story itself:   “De Vincenzo’s attitude is reminiscent of the spirit that God has shown toward us. Despite mankind taking God’s goodness for granted, despite our repeated failures, God was willing to give not just a token amount, but the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. He did so, not reluctantly or with resentment, but willingly and gladly, knowing that while most would only show disdain for his gift, some would respond in obedience motivated by faith and love. ‘For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8).”  

We would not suggest for a moment that we should carelessly squander the Lord’s money. That would be poor stewardship.  But if there is one precious soul that could be classified as a “genuine need,” and we miss it, we may very well pass up an opportunity to do good unto someone who is worthy of our help. And even if we are “taken” from time to time, at least we can rejoice in knowing that there really wasn’t a need after all. 
~~~~~

Tests


by Tom Wacaster

I never did like to take tests. Even in college, preparation for and the taking of tests was stressful, and I suppose college students (or for that matter, any student) feel the same today. I never enjoyed having to memorize numbers, names, and words. Like every student, I often found myself “cramming” for an important test. The study I had neglected often came back to haunt me, and the grade on my test paper would reflect the degree to which I had prepared (or neglected to prepare) the night before. I managed to get through elementary and high school with fair grades, though looking back I now realize I could have probably done a lot better; but who among us does not feel that way? While young I imagined that someday I would no longer need to memorize numbers, names and words. I have been preaching for nearly half a century and I can attest to the undeniable truth that a preacher’s life is one of—well, memorizing names, numbers and words. Little did I know that during my school years I was developing habits that would contribute to my work as a preacher of God’s word. It was in school that I learned good study habits, the value of good books, and how to relate with fellow students and professors. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate the things I learned in school, and I can also appreciate the tests I had to take from time to time.

It is interesting how much emphasis the New Testament writers place on things “written.” Consider just a few examples. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). As John was drawing his gospel to a close he told us: “Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Paul reminded the church at Ephesus that he had received the mystery by divine revelation, “as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-4). We are warned not to “go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6), not to “add to” or “take away from” the things that have been “written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19), and, as did our Lord, to answer every dart hurled at us by the devil with the words, “It is written” (Matt. 4:4, 7, and 10). Let us never underestimate the power of the written word.

I find it intriguing that the same apostle who closed his biography of Christ with a reference to the massive amount of material that might have been written about our Lord, also includes in his first epistle reasons for which he wrote that short letter.

First, John tells us he wrote these things “that our joy may be made full” (1 John 1:4). John attested to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection in no uncertain terms. “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we behold, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). The Gnostics of John’s day questioned the reality of a bodily resurrection; spirit perhaps, or even an illusion, but not a bodily, physical resurrection. John denies that false doctrine of “no resurrection,” the reason being that he, and the other apostles saw, heard and touched the Lord. The Gnostic doctrine offered no  hope, provided no joy, and if there was any scintilla of these things, it certainly was not “full.” Jesus came to give us a full and abundant life (John 10:10). Such can be found only through the written word of God.

Second, John tells us, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin” (1 John 2:1). The preventative to sin is not an overpowering, direct operation by the Holy Spirit or any other member of the Godhead. David acknowledged this truth when he wrote, “Thy word have I laid up in my heard that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11). Our Lord and Master appealed to the “written” word for His defense against Satan. Let the wise take note that the fruit of a godless society is the result of ignorance of the word of God. Over the last half century or so educators, politicians, and the entertainment industry have expunged God from our lives, and then they wring their hands in despair and bewilderment as to why our nation is coming apart at the seams.

Third, John tells he had “written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray” (1 John 2:26). The “antichrists” had already come, and that in great number (1 John 2:18). They were ravening wolves, destroying the church from within (Matt. 7:15). John was not afraid to pinpoint the cause of apostasy, and he did so in writing so that every generation that would follow would have the means to identify and properly deal with false teachers. Too bad some of our brethren are not reading what John and the other apostles wrote regarding these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).

Finally, John tells us, “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 4:13). Assurance is a much wanted commodity in an age of such uncertainty!  If you want to know for sure whether or not you are in a saved condition, compare your life with the examples of those who are said to have been pleasing and righteous in God’s sight (Heb. 11 is a good place to start). Walk in the steps of Jesus, follow the lead of Paul, and sit at the feet of those men who laid out, in detail, what it takes to become a child of God, and what it takes to remain saved; you will be blessed for having done so.

Having examined the different ways in which John addresses what is written, we turn our attention to the “tests” contained in the epistle that can be used to determine if we are, indeed, begotten of God and living according to God’s will. There are three of these.

Test #1 is the test of obedience. The Gnostics prided themselves on their knowledge, but they were lacking in love and the practical application of the word to their lives. So John tells us, “hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Prior to that John told us that we must “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:6). A person’s claims that he is a child of God are vain and empty if the claims are not accompanied by obedience. Do you pass the test?

Test #2 is the test of love. “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10). Genuine love—’agape’ love is the kind of love that seeks the best for a brother in Christ. This implies (and requires) interaction with fellow Christians. No man can be an island unto himself, isolated from fellow Christians, and expect to pass this test of genuine Christianity.

Test #3 is the test of believing Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Who would deny that? The Gnostics did. Here is a fundamental truth that was ignored on the part of the self-proclaimed elite. We are speaking of doctrine—divinely revealed truth that must be accepted for one to remain in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Don’t forget, one must walk in the “light” - i.e., the revealed word of God. Failure to abide in the doctrine of Christ will result in the severance of fellowship from the Father and the Son (2 John 9). There are not “big” doctrines and “little” doctrines. All doctrine is important, and the rejection of the clear teaching of God’s word manifests an attitude of disrespect toward divine authority. It bears repeating, “There is no such thing as a little false doctrine!”

By the way, the tests we take are not printed exams, nor can they be taken “on-line” in some digital classroom. These tests are live, on going, and whether or not we pass will have eternal consequences.

The Gospel Attracts


by Tom Wacaster

Several years ago I came across this little advertisement for Wheat Chex: “Mothers of America, rejoice! Wheat Chex is guaranteed to contain no premiums, no whistles, missiles, rockets, or ruckus. No beanies, B-Bs, heebies, or jeebies. Not a ball, bat, hat, or gat in any package of this crunchable, munchable whole wheat cereal. Wheat Chex is made so the fun is in the flavor. You get taste instead of toys, and nutrition instead of noise” (original source lost). When I was a child, I thought as a child, and the best cereal (in the humble opinion of a 7 year old boy) had to be the one that included the best toy or trinket in the box. Flash Gordon figures, a racing car, or a mystery ring were enough to convince me that the cereal itself simply had to be good. The bottom line is I was not attracted to the cereal but to the gimmicks and gadgets packaged with the cereal. The lover of truth will be attracted to the gospel for what it is and what it provides for the soul that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:6). What is the drawing power of that simple message contained in that wonderful book we call the Bible? Using the letters contained in the English word “GOSPEL,” consider this acrostic as a sampling of why the Gospel Attracts.

G – The Grace It Extends: Without doubt, the gospel is a message of divine grace. Grace has been properly defined as God giving us what we do not deserve. In spite of man’s rebellion, God was willing to extend His grace to lost humanity and offer a way of salvation and reconciliation (Eph. 2:8). It was God’s grace that gave us the Bible. It was the grace of God that sent His Son. The grace of God contained in the Gospel attracts anyone who is poor in spirit and searching for the truth (Matt. 5:3).

O – The Opportunity It Affords: Adam introduced sin into the world, and because all men choose to follow in his steps, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All men are provided an opportunity to find God, however small that opportunity might be or in what form it might come. A man living in a remote part of the earth might look up at the starry sky and using his reasoning capabilities conclude there is a God Who made the heavens. Will he now take advantage of that opportunity and begin his search for God? Or will he, like those ancients old, choose to exchange “the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23)? Adapting the words of Mordecai and using them in a slightly different context, “Who knows whether this opportunity has come to you for such a time as this?” Any opportunity, if rejected, may forever block one’s search for God. For the most part, humanity in this century has almost unlimited access to the Gospel, regardless of where one might live. The world-wide-web can now take the Gospel to places where no man has gone before giving men more opportunities to find God. Thanks be to God for His gift of the Gospel. May all men take advantage of this opportunity to find God.

S – The Salvation  It Offers: The Gospel is not a gimmick to make men rich. The very essence of the Gospel is the salvation it brings to men. Paul tells us that the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16, emphasis mine, TW). The great challenge we face in this century, especially among developed nations, is convincing men of the need to be saved. “Saved from what?” they often ask. Modern man has everything he needs. His creature comforts are provided, and he enjoys unprecedented opportunities for pleasure. He has a chicken in every pot, and even more than that in the freezer. He has a car in every driveway because his garage is filled with “stuff” he has collected through the years. But without the Gospel, mankind remains in spiritual poverty. Until a person recognizes his need for salvation from sin, he will never be drawn to the Gospel.

P – A Power That Is Endless: Our nation uses more than 80.8 quadrillion BTU’s of energy each year. Our electric and gas companies struggle to keep up with the demand. Not so with God’s kingdom. The Gospel is the power to save (Rom. 1:16), the power to guard us (1 Pet. 1:5), the power to preserve (2 Tim. 1:12), and the power to strengthen (Eph. 3:16 and 6:10). It meets every demand and provides every need so as to make the man of God “complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).

E – The Enlightenment That Is Enriching: Paul wrote, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling” (Eph. 1:18-19). A young boy of 9 was sitting in his father’s workshop watching his dad work on a harness. “Someday Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness-maker, just like you.” “Why not start now?” said the father. He took a piece of leather and drew a design on it. “Now” he said, “take the hole-punch and hammer out this design, but be careful that you don’t hit your hand.” But when he hit the hole-punch; it flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost his sight in that eye. Later, as fate would have it, sight in the other eye failed. Louis was now totally blind. A few years later, Louis was sitting in the family garden when a friend handed him a pinecone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the cone, an idea came to him. He became enthusiastic and began to create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so that the blind could feel and interpret. Thus, Louis Braille in 1818 opened up a whole new world for the blind. So it is with the Gospel. Those who read and study it will have a whole new world opened to them.

L – The Love It Evokes: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). One of the most famous tombs in the world is the Taj Mahol in India. It took 22 years to build using more than 20,000 skilled laborers. It was built on the order of a Mogul emperor in memory of his wife of 19 years. Such incidents attest to the words of Solomon, “Set me as a seal upon thy heart, As a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death... Many waters cannot quench love, Neither can floods drown it: If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, He would utterly be contemned” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7). The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). God’s love can never be surpassed, and it is the ultimate drawing power of the Gospel. Jesus Himself said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself” (John 12:32). The Gospel attracts because of the love it evokes.

The late Joe Gilmore observed: “We do not need a new gospel, neither do we need a supplement to the message we already have. We have an unchanging man in an unchanging world, exposed to an unchanging malady, sin, kept alive by an unchanging adversary, Satan. We need the gospel of the first century preached in all of its plainness and purity, without compromise, without apology, without speculation, addition, or subtraction. Only that will draw men to Christ.”