On A More Personal Note

by Tom Wacaster

In 1982, after I had been preaching for ten years, I submitted an article to the Gospel Advocate for consideration under the title, “What I Have Learned After Ten Years of Preaching.” I did not attempt to present some scholarly research on the experience of preaching for a full decade; nor was it packed with an over abundance of scripture. It was, as this week’s title reflects, “on a more personal note.” Guy N. Woods was the editor of the GA at that time, and prior to the publication of that article he wrote me a kind letter expressing his sentiments regarding that article. It was not his policy to publish personal articles, i.e. articles that were more of a personal interest in nature. He then added these kind words (I am paraphrasing since I misplaced that letter many years ago): “After reading your article I felt that it had something in it that might benefit younger preachers like yourself. Not only was it instructive, but it was very warm and personal.” The article was published in the following month’s issue of the GA. His encouraging words to this young preacher no doubt played an important role in my desire to develop my writing skills. The simple fact that one of my articles was accepted for publication was uplifting; but that kind letter from brother Woods simply made my day!

So, what does a person mean when he says, “On a more personal note”? One online quote source had this: “Is it okay to use this phrase like the example below in changing the tone of an interview, for example, from work-related to something personal. As in: ‘On a more personal note, I enjoy reading books and traveling.’” (Author unknown). 

I have, for many years, viewed the church bulletin as an instrument for instruction as well as news of the local congregation. In fact, writing a weekly article is simply an extension of my work as a preacher. So when I came to Handley I was thrilled that I actually got two and a half pages of space in which to write a weekly article. I have now written more than 250 articles in this bulletin since coming on board at Handley. You may not realize it but the number of words in those 250 plus articles are the equivalent of two full size novels. On a few occasions I have dug out an older article that I wrote in previous years, reworked it, and then shared it with my readers in hopes that I might stimulate their thinking on some particular subject. Having said all that, let me deviate from my typical “instructive” style of writing, and share with you some things “on a more personal note.”

First, on a more personal note, consider the loud calls for “change” in our society today. “Change” seems to be the battle cry for this modern age. Eight years ago it was “hope and change.” Today it is “any kind of change is better!” We might be tempted to associate the word with the trumpet call of the political liberals, environmentalists, and community organizers. But the religious world has not escaped this clamor for change. Even among our so-called brethren of the liberal mindset, change has become the battle cry of those who are determined to restructure the Lord’s church into just one more religious group in a sea of confusion and diversity. To be sure, not all change is bad. But the kind of change we address here is change that will diametrically altar the Lord’s church as we know it. Compromise is not the answer, nor is a radical restructure the panacea to our problems. A few years back brother Steve Higginbotham shared this interesting quote from Dr. Wayne Dehoney, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention: “A closer look at the churches of Christ would hardly reveal that their brand of religion is on the downgrade! This fast-growing group is one of the most potent missionary and evangelistic forces in the country. Their congregations are flourishing, and new churches are continually being established. A profile of faith and practice contradicts practically every ‘solid conclusion’ by the authorities of the main-line denominational establishments about the renewal the church must experience to ‘survive.’  The churches of Christ are anti-ecumenical in their relationships; conservative in their theology; autonomous and democratic in their congregational structure; they make rigid moral and ethical demands on their members in such matters as social drinking; they are not ‘social action’ oriented; they have a ‘messianic complex’ of being the true people of God and the true church!  All of these factors combine to give them a high motivation, an unquenchable zeal, and an inescapable compulsion to win the world to an acceptance of their convictions and beliefs. And they are growing rapidly.”  I might argue with Dr. Dehoney as to exactly how rapidly we are growing when compared to forty years ago, but with regard to the overall description of our zeal and motivation, and especially our distinctiveness, he is right on target. What I find curious about the cries for change within the brotherhood is the fact that the kind of change some are demanding will actually destroy our distinctiveness, the very characteristic that has brought growth to the Lord’s church through the years. Why is it that some of our “learned” brethren want to compromise the truth, soften our positions on doctrinal matters, and apologize for our exclusiveness? Paul told us that he was “not ashamed of the Gospel; for it is the power unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Is it possible that some of our brethren are ashamed of that Gospel, and who now want to change the face of the church so as not to offend others?

Second, on a more personal note, I have learned in the last year or so the value of the greatest “support group” in the world. I speak, of course, of the Lord’s church. I do not consider myself old, a term that is, no doubt, relative in many respects. Some of you are much older than myself; some much younger. I have my aches and pains; but compared to so many others my aches and pains are insignificant. Your encouragement to me and Johnnie Ann over the last twelve months has been a strength and a joy that words simply cannot express in a way that would convey what lies deep within our hearts. Johnnie Ann is still not “out of the woods” so to speak, and this past week’s appointment with her doctor was not all that encouraging. Uncertain of what is still in store, we continue to lean upon the brethren for strength, and take refuge in our God Who can do far beyond what we ask of think.

Third, on a more personal note, I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful providence of God. Johnnie Ann has a wonderful young counselor who comes once or twice a week for therapy sessions with her. Over the last couple of months we have had opportunity to discuss the Bible. I have given her passages that reveal a stark contrast between the religion of her fathers and that which appears in the pages of inspired writ. I think her eyes have been opened to some degree. But the point right here is this: had Johnnie Ann never developed hydrocephalus, this young lady might never have come in contact with the truth. We are both praying that she will have a good heart and be obedient to the will of God.

Fourth, on a more personal note, I have learned that the older I get the harder it is to pack boxes, juggle schedules, and go through the enormous amount of paper work it takes to sell one’s house and purchase another. Having put the house on the market, and now having made an offer on another house, we find ourselves scrambling to find a place to lay our heads and store our “stuff” during the interim between closing on one house (May 6th) and finalizing the sale on the second (May 14th). We consider this another “adventure” in the roller coaster ride of life.

Finally, on a more personal note, our sincere thanks to all of the members of the Handley congregation for your longsuffering for this aging preacher, your encouragement when Johnnie Ann and I get down, and your compliments on my sermons, even when I feel I could have done better.  It is great to be a member here at Handley; it is even greater to be privileged to stand in the pulpit from week to week and share with you the unsearchable riches of Christ.

The Debt of Faith

by Tom Wacaster

How many times have we read the words of Paul in Romans 1:14-15? A dozen? Fifty? Perhaps a hundred? How many times have we listened to the preacher, or a Bible class teacher call our attention to the words of that great man of God? Now let me ask you: “How many times have you seriously meditated on those words, giving full thought to the implications of the message provided to us by the Holy Spirit?” It is unfortunate that the general attitude that prevails among so many is what has been often called the “punch-card” mentality. Clock in, clock out! In secular word, the eight hours or so between that first and second punch of an employee, between one’s arrival and departure, belonged to the company; all else belonged to him. And while there were those who “punched the clock,” there were also those men and women whose position with the company cannot be measured by time but by commitment and dedication.

Now look again at those words in Romans 1:14-15: “I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.” Paul was an individual who felt a strong compulsion in his own conscience that was so great that he was willing to turn his back on the things of the world and devote himself wholly to the advancement of the cause of Christ and the salvation of the souls of men. His attitude toward the things of the world represented a 180 degree change, as expressed in his own words: “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). The apostle considered himself dead to the world because he had “been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). With the old man of sin dead and buried, Paul from henceforth focused his attention on Christ, the lost, and the preaching of the gospel. He was willing to suffer all things for the cause of Christ; and suffer he did. The catalogue of those sufferings is listed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. It is unlikely that any of us have had to endure the things Paul endured. Which makes me wonder how severely the tree of God’s faithful saints would be pruned if we had to endure those hardships of the apostle Paul.

The early church likewise endured great tribulation and persecution for the cause of Christ. For almost three centuries following the establishment of the church in Acts 2 the Roman Empire engaged in open warfare against Christ and His church. The Christian religion was declared illegal and multiplied thousands were hounded, tortured, and hunted down like common criminals. There was a literal blood bath of the martyrs during that time. Why did they endure? What compelled them to refuse to submit to the order of Caesar and cease to declare the gospel? Why? It is because of the debt of faith they owed to the lost and to the Lord.

Fast forward now to the last three centuries in our country. Men and women suffered much for the cause of Christ in the early years of the movement to restore the ancient order of primitive Christianity. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were opposed furiously by denominational groups and charged frequently with heresy. They endured persecution and violence at times. Attempts were made to break up their services. Rocks, sticks and clods of earth were thrown into the water during their baptismal services. The clergy denounced them openly. Waymond Miller shared the following information regarding Campbell:

Once when Alexander Campbell was riding his horse home after a service, he encountered a severe rain storm. He stopped at a farm house to ask for shelter. With the flickering light of a candle, a woman peered through a partly open door and  asked cautiously, “You Alexander Campbell? I would soon give shelter to the devil. My preacher said you should drown!” She then slammed the door in Campbell’s face.

“Raccoon” John Smith (1784-1868) is a classic example of a rugged frontier preacher who endured great hardship because of the debt of faith that he felt within. He had a meager formal education but a sharp intellect and a unique style. Campbell said Smith was the only man he knew who would have been spoiled by a college education. He never lived in anything but a crude log cabin, part of which had only dirt floors. He supported his family by farming and received little money for his preaching. John Smith never attained to any wealth, but he was, without doubt, rich in faith. Like the apostle Paul, he would endure great hardship so he could preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once while Smith was away preaching, his wife was ministering to a sick neighbor. While she was there the Smiths’ cabin burned, killing two of their children. Mrs. Smith never over came the emotional trauma and died herself.

The late Joe Gilmore used to tell of Joe Blue, with whom he was personally acquainted. When brother Blue began preaching in the Ozark hills of northern Arkansas, he was painfully impoverished. During his first year, 1897, he baptized 75, established one church, and received $19.00 for his work. While traveling, he went without food many days because he had no money. For his meeting with one church, he received one dollar and a bushel of seed corn. After the meeting he walked home through the snow 46 miles! During his career he baptized 10,000 people.

I have had the blessed privilege of travelling to India more than a dozen times over the past thirteen years or so. Those men who have equipped themselves to preach the gospel have endured some of the same kind of hardships that the early pioneers in our country went through. They travel by foot, bicycle, train and motorcycle; and yes, even on the backs of donkeys! Even to this day the hardships they face are an example of the degree of dedication that is rare in our country and in some cases non-existent. I have personally invited preachers to go with me to India. At least some are honest enough to tell me that just don’t think they could put up with the inconveniences that would go with such a journey.

I could go on. But let us return to the present. How many of us feel the same debt of faith that Paul felt? How many of us would be willing to endure the same hardships that the pioneers in the early years of the restoration movement endured? Who among us would suffer the hardships that men (and women) have to endure in India at this very moment so that they might advance the boarders of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ? The simple fact is, all of us are indebted to God for His wonderful salvation. Each one of us owes a debt of faith that we can only attempt to repay. Spiritually speaking, your obligation to serve God in the interest of the salvation of others will never be discharged until the time comes for you to lay your armor down at the foot of the cross. One author so eloquently addressed our sacred obligation toward the lost, with which I will close:

No matter how long you live, no matter how diligent you are in teaching others the truth, no matter how many sermons you might preach, or how much service you might render to the Lord or how faithful you might be in it, the time will never come while the strength is yet yours and while life still exists that you can say, “I do not have any obligation that has not been fulfilled entirely to the souls of all men or to the soul of any man; my debt is paid.” It never will be! (Roy Cogdill).
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Separated

by Tom Wacaster


There is a connotation that attaches itself to the above word. Let your mind rest on that word for just a moment. “Separated!” There is a sense of hopelessness in that word; a sense of loss, yea, irreparable loss. “Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles….were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11-12). Most of you reading this article are aware of the events of Genesis chapter three. While some have concluded that the story is nothing more than some kind of myth, let me assure you that the story reflects historical accuracy that defies any attack that modernists might make to the contrary. Any attempt to explain heaven’s inspired account of the fall of man as some kind of fairy tale is an attack on the Bible, God, and Jesus Christ, Who during His earthly ministry, attested to the reality of Adam, Eve and the serpent on numerous occasions. Paul treated the fall of man as a time-space reality. By the action of one man’s disobedience sin entered into the world, and through that one man’s disobedience the “many” were made sinners (Romans 5:12-19). Be careful here! The many were not “made sinners” separate and apart from their own choice. Careful examination of that passage in Romans will reveal that all men are “made” sinners because they chose to follow in the steps of Adam. None were born sinners, but all became sinners by individual will.



One of the first things we notice in the fall of Adam and Eve is that both of them attempted to pass the proverbial “buck” and thereby devoid themselves of any responsibility in their actions. “And the man said, The woman thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12). “And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). As one South African brother was fond of saying, “The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.” But God in His divine omniscience saw through their feeble attempt to shun personal responsibility, and pronounced judgment on the man, the woman, and the serpent. Beginning with the latter, God said to the serpent: “Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life; and I will put enmity between thee and the women, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:14-15). Unto the woman Jehovah said: “I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Unto the man the Lord said: “Cursed be the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the filed; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:18-19). The fruit of the fall of Adam and Eve is not limited to the physical. In fact, the most significant aspect of the fall of man has to do with the spiritual. This can be seen when we focus our attention on the various separations that occurred as the result of the sin of Adam. 



First, the greatest separation is between God and man. In actuality it overshadows all of the other separations because of the eternal consequences associated with it. Someone once said, “When man sinned, the purpose of his existence was smashed” (Francis Schaeffer, On-Line quotes). It is this spiritual separation that threatens the vast majority of the human race. Unfortunately this separation between God and man is seldom considered because men are unaware of it due to their unwillingness to “come to the light, lest his works should be reproved” (John 3:20). 



Second, there is the separation of man from himself. He suffers a psychological separation because of self deception. He blinds himself to the reality of the God of heaven, turns his back on the word that can inform him of that God, and seeks the things that are below rather the things that are above, all the while deceiving himself into thinking that this is the true course to genuine happiness. The “god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them” (2 Cor. 4:4). Their self imposed blindness occurred when, like Eve, they ceased to believe in the word of God and chose rather to believe the devil. But man’s separation from himself is not limited to the psychological. He is also separated in his relation to those about him. He begins to treat others as objects to be exploited for his own selfish ends. Self becomes the center of his focus, and the real purpose for his existence (Ecc. 12:13) is lost in the maze of his own selfishness. This quite naturally leads to our third point.



Third, sin separates man from his fellow man. This is the natural outgrowth of his separation from himself. Look at that tragic scene in the garden. Immediately following his sin, Adam became separated from Eve. Both of them sought to pass the blame to another. Excuse making drives a wedge between the one who makes the excuse and one to whom he attempts to pass the blame. This separation of man from his fellow man will play out on the stage of Biblical history: Adam and Eve; Cain and Able; the “seed of the woman” an the “seed” of the devil; the “sons of God” and the “children of darkness.” This last one becomes more defined as Biblical history unfolds declaring the one single division in all of humanity, namely those who stand in rebellion to God and those who are redeemed. 



The final separation is that which exists between man and nature as God had originally intended when He created man and placed him in that beautiful garden to dress and keep it. We are not provided with much information of the beauty of that garden, but we are promised that all will be restored in that heavenly Jerusalem that awaits all of the faithful. When Adam and Eve sinned they were cast out of the garden, and their descendants have, without exception, had to endure the thistles and thorns that have exasperated every attempt to build some utopia on earth. Separated from God, man has failed to subdue all that God placed under his dominion. The Hebrews writer so declared: “For in that he subjected all things unto him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not all things subjected to him” (Heb. 2:8, emphasis mine, TW). While man has made tremendous strides in technology, travel, medicine, etc., the one thing he has yet to subdue is himself.



There is one thing from which man has not been separated. That one thing is his soul. Man is still man, and the temporary tabernacle that God has given man for his four score journey through this life will one day give way to that resurrected body that will, at the sounding of the trumpet, go forth unto eternal glory, or unto eternal separation from the God Who made man in His own image.
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