Momma, What Are These?



by Tom Wacaster

Occasionally I stop at the local Good Will to drop something off and while there I take a few minutes to peruse the books they have on display. Most of what lines the shelves of the “book department” at Good Will is either out of date (terribly out of date), or the books don’t contain anything of interest to me. I never found a lot of sense in purchasing a manual on Microsoft Windows 94 some two decades after that operating system went by the wayside. If you still own an old Windows 94 computer and are needing some brushing up on that particular operating system, and just can’t find any help on line, you might try making a quick trip down to the local Good Will and check in their “book department.”  This is not to say that my book shopping at Good Will has never been fruitful. I have, on occasion, come across some good books at the Good Will. But my experience has been that Half-Priced-Books is a better place to find good used books.

It has been at least twenty years since the following occurred, but it seems like only yesterday. On that particular occasion I had found a book that I wanted to purchase, and as I headed for the check out counter I passed several boxes filled to the brim with old 45 r.p.m. records (those are the records with the large hole in the center, usually containing one single from the artist on each side). There was a young lad about five years of age who, looking into this large box of old records, asked his mother, “Momma, what are these plastic disks with holes in them?” No answer was forthcoming. Perhaps his mother did not know; in fact I don’t think she had any idea what those little “plastic disks” were.  I paused for a moment to flip through some of those old records, and as I did I wondered to myself how long it would be before those old 45’s became as extinct as the even older 78 r.p.m.’s (those were the thick records with the tiny hole in the center). If technology continues its present pace of changes and upgrades the day will come when the very mention of 45 r.p.m. ’s will conjure up memories of a bygone era, or even worse, conjure up no memories at all.

It has probably been thirty years or more since the Statler Brothers wrote and produced a song reflecting upon the “good ole’ days” of the 50’s and 60’s. It was titled, ‘Do You Remember These?’ The song contains a veritable “catalogue of nostalgia.” Harold Statler once commented with regard to that song, “We’re always collecting old films, comics, memorabilia. We’re always asking each other, ‘Do you remember this? Do you remember that?’ That’s how we came up with the song just from our everyday conversations. We could have gone on forever. As it was, we had to cut out half of it because it was too long.”  For those who are at least as old as I am, see if any of these items in that song conjure up memories of the past:  “Saturday morning serials, chapters one through fifteen;  fly paper, penny loafers, lucky strike three; flat tops, sock hops, Studebaker, ‘Pepsi please’; cigar bands on  your hand, your Daddy’s socks rolled down.”  Or what about:  “Aviator caps with flaps that button down; movie stars on Dixie Cup tops; nickers to your knees [that one is even before my time]; peddle pushers, and duck tail hair; Howdy Doody, and tootie-fruitie; Cracker Jack prize, fender skirts, double root-beer floats; Ah, do you remember these?”

Most of the things listed in that old Statler Brothers’ song have long since vanished.  This generation knows little of those things mentioned in the song for two reasons: (1) they became outmoded and outdated; (2) the memory of those things was not passed along to the next generation. Herein lies the point we want to make.  The Lord’s church is older than any of those old 45’s, or those things about which the Statler Brothers sang. Every generation has the sacred obligation of perpetuating the truths of God’s word to the next generation. That old story will never be outmoded or outdated. It may be forgotten by some, but it will always be relevant and up to date. Not everyone in our country is aware of the truths that many of us were taught when we were a child. We are increasingly confronted with questions, the answers to which we often take for granted: “Who is this ‘God’ you talk about?” “What is this book you call the Bible?” “What do you mean by ‘the undenominational nature of the church,’ or this thing you call ‘the church of Christ?” “Why don’t you use instrumental music in your worship?” The same applies to the moral standard that characterized our beloved nation only a half century ago. The younger generation has forgotten the values of our parents and grandparents for the simple reason that (1) Christianity has been criticized as being outmoded, out of date and non-relevant, and (2) some have failed to keep in memory those eternal truths passed along to them by others.

It has often been said, “Apostasy is only one generation away.” I fear that the day may come when I hear some child in a Good Will store come across a copy of the Bible and ask his mother, “Momma, what is this book?” But what I fear even more is that when that question is asked by an inquiring child, his mother will not know how to answer. 
~~~~~

Calling Bible Things By Bible Names
by Tom Wacaster

Words serve as a vehicle of communication. Similarly, ideas have consequences and ideas are communicated in words. In view of the fact that God, by inspiration, selected the very words by which to communicate to us spiritual truths (1 Cor. 2:13, ASV), one would think men would respect the words God selected to name and designate our  religious activities.  Unfortunately this is not the case.   Not only have men changed Biblical terminology to suit their own way of thinking, they have invented new words to convey new ideas introduced into their man-made religions. Lets take just one example. The inspired writer Luke tells us that the “disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). We are also instructed to “glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:16). When God selected the name Christian He did so to the exclusion of all other “names.” Prophetically, God said that his people would be called by a new name” (Isa 62:2).  Notice the singularity of designation; it is NAME, not NAMES. We can, by divine authority, refer to ourselves as “Christians.” Beyond that, there is no authority, either by example, command or inference. But ask the average man concerning his religious affiliation and he will either hyphenate and/or eliminate the name Christian in his answer. Wherein is the authority? When asked “What church do you attend?” more often than not you will hear some reference to a word or term that is completely foreign to the New Testament. Again, wherein is the authority? In view of the fact that we are to “hold fast the form of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13), perhaps the religious leaders of this land owe us some answer for the new vocabulary they have injected into God’s divine word. For some reason I don’t think such an explanation will be forthcoming.

Christ The Sinless One



By Tom Wacaster

For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin(Heb. 4:15). Three words in that verse define the humanity of Jesus that makes Him qualified to serve as our Redeemer: “Yet without sin.” Everything about Jesus’ earthly sojourn culminates in this one amazing statement. William Moorehead is credited with having made the following observation about the manhood of Jesus: “At every stage of His development, in every relation of life, in every part of His service He is absolutely perfect. To no part of His life does a mistake attach, over no part of it does a cloud rest, nowhere is there defect” (The Fundamentals, Volume 2, page 61). One reason why Jesus lived such an extraordinary life is seen His humility. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and He never lost sight of that supreme goal. Paul tells us that He “emptied himself, taking upon himself the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7a). The gospels paint a picture of Someone Who never drew attention to Himself, never demanded His “rights,” or desired fame or fortune.  Again from the words of Moorehead:

He receives ministry from the lowly and the lofty; He is sometimes hungry, yet feeds the multitudes in desert places; He has no money, yet He never begs, and He provides the coin for tribute to the government from a fish's mouth. He may ask for a cup of water at the well, but it is that He may save a soul. He never flies from enemies; He quietly withdraws or passes by unseen. Hostility neither excites nor exasperates Him. He is always calm, serene. He seems to care little for Himself, for His own ease or comfort or safety, but everything for the honor and the glory of the Father.

The very character of Jesus declares His divinity. Even if the word of God never declared in so many words the deity of Jesus, His life would stand as a testimony to that undeniable truth. Consider the words of the Hebrews writer for a moment.

First, “one that hath in all points been tempted like as we are.” Temptation is not sin; if it were then it could not be said that Jesus was “without sin.” The devil attacked the woman in the Garden using the “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life” (2 John 2:16b). “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [“lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [“lust of the eyes”], and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise [“the vainglory of life”], she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Gen. 3:6). I dare not minimize the sin of Adam and Eve, but it should be pointed out that the devil threw all he had at her; unfortunately she caved in, “and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6b). All men since have been tempted in one of those three ways, and in every case the outcome was that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Fast forward some 4,000 years. The devil again uses the same avenues in an attempt of seduce Jesus to sin: “If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matt. 4:3) - the “lust of the flesh.” “If thou art the Son of God, cast thyself down” (Matt. 4:6) - the “vainglory of life.” “Again, the devil taketh him unto an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (Matt. 4:8) - “lust of the eyes.”  Don’t tell me that Jesus was not tempted. Don’t tell me that He did not face what we have to face in our everyday, rat-race world. Don’t tell me He never felt what we have felt when it comes to the power of temptation.

Now focus on those three words that sets Jesus apart from all men: “yet without sin.” Those words could not have been written had Jesus not demonstrated that sinless nature throughout His life. The gospels bear witness to one unique fact of Jesus’ life, and that is that He lived a sinless life. Consider the following evidence.

First, there is the testimony of His enemies. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry the Pharisees were watching His every move. If there were any “skeletons in the closet” they would surely have dug them up. Someone once pointed out: “There was the Pharisee mingling in every crowd, hiding behind every tree. They examined His disciples, they cross-questioned all around Him. They looked into His ministerial life, into His domestic privacy, into His hours of retirement. They came forward with the sole accusation they could muster - that He had shown disrespect to Caesar. The Roman judge who ought to know, pronounced it void.” To that list of enemies we could add Judas, who after betraying Jesus to the Jewish and Roman authorities, confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood.

Second, there is the testimony of the friends of Jesus. Do we think for a moment that had they found some flaw, some sin in the life of Jesus that they would have dedicated their life to following Him? They would have turned away in utter disgust, seeing in this person nothing more than a charlatan, fraud, and hypocrite. Even John the Baptist, perhaps one of the purest of men, realized that when compared to Jesus, he paled in comparison.

Third, there is the very life of Jesus, recorded in the Gospels, and, like an open book, ready for examination. Jesus never prayed for forgiveness. In fact He never asks His disciples to pray for Him in any fashion whatsoever. Once more from the pen of Moorehead:

There is about Him an air of superior holiness, of aloofness from the world and its ways, a separation from evil in every form and of every grade, such as no other that has ever lived has displayed. Although descended from an impure ancestry, He brought no taint of sin into the world with Him; and though He mingled with sinful men and was assailed by fierce temptations, He contracted no guilt, he was touched by no stain. He was not merely undefiled, but He was undefilable. He was like a ray of light which parting from the fountain of light can pass through the foulest medium and still be unstained and untouched. He came down into all the circumstances of actual humanity in its sin and misery, and yet He kept the infinite purity of heaven with Him. In the annals of our race there is none next to or like Him.

I once observed that when God created this universe He created it perfect. Even after the fall of man, and the universal flood, the beauties of creation astound the imagination. One example will suffice here. Have you ever seen any of the colors of a mountain side, or a setting sun clash? The colors of the rainbow blend in exquisite beauty. Now apply that same principle to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. In every way, and in every situation, our Lord lived a balanced life. Moorhead picked up on this wonderful aspect of our Lord: “In Jesus there is the most perfect balance, the most amazing equipoise of every faculty and grace and duty and power. In His whole life one day's walk never contradicts another, one hour's service never clashes with another. While He shows he is master of nature's tremendous forces, and the Lord of the unseen world, He turns aside and lays His glory by to take little children in His arms and to bless them. While He must walk amid the snares His foes have privily spread for His feet, He is equal to every occasion, is in harmony with the requirements of every moment. He never speaks where it would be better to keep silence, He never keeps silence where it would be better to speak; and He always leaves the arena of controversy a victor. His unaffected majesty, so wonderfully depicted in the Gospels, runs through His whole life, and is as manifest in the midst of poverty and scorn, at Gethsemane and Calvary, as on the Mount Of Transfiguration and in the resurrection from the grave” (Moorehead, The Fundamentals, Volume 2, page 69).

How blessed is mankind that Jesus lived the life He lived, “tempted in all points...yet without sin.” May we never take that for granted, but praise our Father for sending His Son, “Christ the sinless One!”

[Note: I borrowed and adapted many of the thoughts presented by Moorehead in his chapter in The Fundamentals, Volume 2. If you have never read that chapter you owe it to yourself to do so.  TW]

Don't Neglect God's Book



by Tom Wacaster

For many years the Bible has been the bestselling book, not only in America, but in every country where God’s word is allowed to have free run. Non-profit organizations such as the American Bible Society have devoted untold man hours, and millions of dollars to see to it that the Bible is made available to anyone and everyone who desires to feed on the Book of books. The fact is, the Bible is the most widely printed, the most sought after, and the most influential book the world has ever had the blessed privilege of reading. 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. It has withstood the hammers of infidelity, and weathered the howling winds of higher criticism. Within the pages of the Bible the reader can find explicit statements as to its indestructibility. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). “The grass withereth, and the flower falleth; But the word of the Lord abideth forever. And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:24b-25). The word of God is pictured as an “incorruptible seed” (1 Pet. 1:23), and something that cannot be bound (2 Tim. 2:9). William Hendriksen is credited with having said, “Others will carry on when I leave this earthly scene. The authorities have put me in the dungeon, but they cannot imprison the gospel. It will triumph and no enemy can thwart it.” This book will be preached until our Lord returns, it will be opened at the Judgment scene, and it will be honored throughout eternity. While history books become outdated, and science books re-edited, the Bible remains as fresh today as when it was written and needs no addition, subtraction, or rewriting. So long as men hunger and thirst after righteousness, the Bible will find a place in their hearts.

In view of the indestructibility of the word, why do so many neglect a serious study of its contents? Surely it is not because of it’s lack of availability. Have you ever thought of the amazing availability of Scripture in our modern age? We have ready access to God’s word in print and on the internet. If you have an iPad, you can download free Bible software from Olive Tree. If you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or a simple Trackphone, applications are available at no charge. Software is available for those who prefer studying at the keyboard of a computer, providing dozens of translations, dictionaries, commentaries, maps, illustrations, and study helps. I have on my computers two Bible software programs, both of which are absolutely free. At the click of a button I can look up words, search the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek words, consult the wisdom of brethren who blazed the trail in our country in order to restore the church of the New Testament and provide generations to follow a sound and solid footing in the word, and scour the internet for literally thousands of websites and blogs by faithful brethren. The sheer amount of material available to the serious Bible student overwhelms me. So you see, it is not a matter of some lack of availability of God’s word that causes us to neglect study of His word. Yes, what an amazing age we live in! And yet, sadly, far too many saints still neglect their sacred responsibility and privilege of studying the word. In a time when our world needs a strong church to counteract the onslaught of the devil, it seems that we are the weakest we have been in decades; all because of negligence and apathy on the part of members of the Lord’s body. Some years ago I came across the following poem that addresses the problem of which I speak:

“UNREAD”
by Cleah Boaz

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     for all the world to see.
With my leather cover and gilded pages
     I am open at Psalm 23.

But no one ever picks me up
     and lovingly turns a page,
And the place that is open at Psalm 23
     is growing brittle with age.

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     On a beautifully carved teak stand.
But no one ever reads the words
     that were penned by an inspired hand.

My owner thinks my presence
     is his ticket to Paradise,
But he has never consulted me
     or heeded my advice.

I am a Bible proudly displayed
     open but never read.
My owner’s soul will starve to death
     for lack of its daily bread.

I don’t know if you have ever heard of William McPherson. After a tragic accident Mr. McPherson found himself with no hands and no eyes. In his despair, he turned to the Word of God. However, he could not read Braille with artificial hands. He attempted to read the Braille with his lips, but the dynamite had exploded in his face and he had no feeling left in his lips. One day he tried to read the dots with his tongue and discovered that he could distinguish the Moon system of dashes. Unfortunately, his tongue became sore and bled constantly. Sometimes he would stay up the entire night just to learn a single letter of the alphabet. Eventually, he mastered the entire alphabet and read the entire Bible with his tongue four times before his death. This man’s example ought to shame those who complain that they don’t have the time or who do not want to put forth the effort to read the Bible. Their neglect will face them in the judgment, and the very words of Christ that they neglected will judge them in the last day (John 12:48).

This year is rapidly drawing to a close. How did you fare in your daily Bible reading this year? In sixteen days you will be provided a clean slate of time: 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months! Pick up your reading schedule for the year and don’t neglect God’s Book.

~~~~~



Apollos Watered

by Tom Wacaster

In 1 Corinthians 3:6 the apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, penned these words: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” The last time I attempted to grow a garden was in the late 80’s. I had never had very good luck with growing potatoes, but thought I would take a shot at it again. I purchased 10 pounds of potatoes, cut out the “eyes” and carefully planted them in my garden. We had a wet spring that year, and it seems like every time I wanted to get into the garden and do some weeding, it was too wet and muddy. For whatever reason, I ended up with a yield of 8 pounds of potatoes for all my labor and toil; two pounds less than the bag of potatoes I originally purchased. It was sort of like some my attempts at fishing where I would buy a license, worms, and minnows. The amount of money I spent for each pound of fish I eventually cooked, far outweighed the amount of money it would take to go to Red Lobster. But that’s a topic for another time.

Jesus would often use a real life situation to teach an important spiritual truth. In the field of agriculture, our Lord spoke of the word of God as a “seed” (Luke 8:11). Carefully planted in the heart of a good and honest soul that seed, like its physical counterpart, will not only produce a harvest, but an abundant harvest, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:23). Also like its physical counterpart, a seed planted into the soil needs to be nourished and cared for. Part of that care for the newly planted seed is the watering thereof. Consider the following.

First, there is the sheer importance of watering. God, in His marvelous design, arranged the natural order of things so that a seed planted in the ground must receive water in order to sprout and grow. Water activates the chlorophyll molecules in the seed so that photosynthesis can begin. Water also has a neutral pH which balances the soil pH and makes the soil surrounding the seed favorable for seed germination. The water also dissolves the minerals in the soil so that they become available to the seed. Inside the seed is a tiny embryo surrounded by stored food and when the seed is planted, and watered, it begins the growth process. Deprive the seed, and/or the plant of water, and it will die. So it is with God’s spiritual seed, the Word of God (Luke 8:11). The soil may determine the amount of care required to bring the seed to full fruition, but without water, there simply can be no growth.

Second, there are the specifics of watering. If a freshly planted seed is placed in the ground, too much water will do more harm than good. Care must also be given with regard to how the water is to be applied. If water is applied in an overly forceful way you can actually wash the soil away that surrounds the seed and hasten its death. Care must also be given as to how we water the spiritual seed freshly planted in the heart of a good and honest soul. Too much spiritual “water” could drown the soul. It takes a lot of time, patience, and compassion to properly water the newly planted seed. A good example is another essential to nurturing the seed. A good example must be provided by the teacher, as well as those who claim any association to the message of that teacher. If brother Jones takes the time to teach some lost soul, it is imperative that he set a proper example. Teaching coupled with action is the golden key that unlocks the vault of influence. But it is also important that each member in the local congregation live a life that is exemplary to the message and hope to which they have been called. Hypocrites in a congregation most certainly render a negative influence upon those contemplating attendance or obedience. Yes, a good example is important.  Then there is the need for additional teaching and instruction once the seed has been planted. Paul introduced the Corinthians to the Gospel; Apollos did the follow up work. Seldom does a soul obey the Gospel after just one lesson (though there are exceptions). Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years of encouragement and instruction. As long as a man is willing to learn, let us provide him with the “sincere milk of the word,” and pray for his obedience.

Third, let us realize that ‘planters’ and ‘waterers’ share in responsibility. The planting is of no greater or lesser importance than the watering. It takes both. The ‘planter’ may include those who visit and set up studies, conduct cottage classes, teach and preach the word publicly and/or privately.  The ‘waterer’ may follow up with encouragement, a visit or call on the phone, or a prayer in behalf of those who have heard yet not obeyed. The ‘planters’ do their job well, and the ‘waterers’ contribute to the completion of the work, and both share in the reward. Let us not forget, “for as his share is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his share be that tarrieth by the baggage: they shall share alike” (1 Sam. 30:24).

Fourth, it is important that both the ‘planter’ and the ‘waterer’ be versed in the scripture. A successful gardener must have a knowledge of gardening. On occasions I have actually pulled out precious flower plants because I thought they were weeds. Someone might accidentally poison a plant if he is ignorant of what chemicals are good and/or bad for the care of his garden. And so it is with planting and watering. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded us, “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” What constitutes a “shining light”?  Is my example beneficial or detrimental to the well being of those who are watching me? Am I using scripture properly in the exhortation and encouragement that I lend to others? How can you be certain if you do not know God’s word?

Finally, we will all share the bounty with others. My first local work was in a farming community in south central Oklahoma. Summer’s harvest, though planted by others, was shared with the many. It was not uncommon for the famers and avid gardeners to produce an abundant crop. They would take what they needed, and then bring the excess bounty to the congregation for all to share. There would be so many potatoes, tomatoes, and onions that we simply could not eat it all. Waste is wrong and one’s bounty was passed along to others.  So it is with God’s bountiful harvest. It is to be shared with others. The Gospel is for all. The Great Commission is not the Great Permission. Those who refuse to share what they enjoy with others are guilty of selfishness. Like the lepers who discovered the goods in the abandoned camp of the Syrians: “Then they said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, punishment will overtake us; now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (2 Kings 7:9).  Brother, do not horde your blessings.  Give to others that they too might live.

As we labor together may we recognize the fact that, although some are “planters,” and others are “waterers,” our goal is the salvation of the souls of men to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son.

Are You Listening

by Tom Wacaster

The title for this week’s article reflects the very words that the late V.E. Howard would use in his radio broadcast each week. “Are you listening?” Those three words were designed to capture the attention of the audience and convey the serious and sobering nature of the message they were about to hear, or that they had just heard. Matthew 6:1 contains the same kind of attention getting introduction regarding what that audience was about to hear. “Take heed!” Other translations read “Beware,” or “Be careful.” In fact, the same two words could be used to call our attention to every utterance, every warning, and every promise that passed across the lips of Jesus. When E.F. Hutton speaks it might be said that men listen; but when Jesus our King speaks, men had better listen. The words of our Master are like a flaming sword. They are not words of some kind of sentimental, mushy, “feel good” message, but words that are sobering and serious. His words are words that remind us that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground.

Over the years I have heard preachers, elders, and good and faithful students of God’s word declare with regard to a particular passage, “This is my favorite verse in the whole Bible!” I, too, have expressed such sentiments from time to time. When I was a student I was blessed to sit at the feet of the late Roy Deaver. It was not unusual for him to express the same sentiment regarding the book or passage that we happened to be studying. He would temper his remarks with this astute observation: “Every book in the Bible is my favorite book for the purpose for which it was written!” The same might be said of simple phrases used by our Lord, as recorded in the Bible for our admonition. These two words at the beginning of Matthew 6 are “my favorite words for the purpose for which they were spoken.” That brings us back to the passage itself and some observations relative to these sobering words from our King, “Take heed!”

First, we must take heed that our motive in serving God is the right motive. Every deed is preceded by a reason for that deed. Sadly, there are men and women who are devoted to an utterly false religion. Their eyes are blinded to the truth, and their devotion, sometimes boarding on absolute hysteria, compels them to act the way they do. Most logically and reasonably thinking men can see the harm that is being perpetrated by members of such organizations as ISIS and Al-Queda. What we fail to realize is that the actions of such devotees is always preceded by some kind of motive; right or wrong, the motive is what moves them. False teachers, along with their followers, are all motivated by something. It is also possible that you and I can be motivated to perform our religious duties by a desire that is totally contrary to the will of God and the tenor of true religion. If we give alms in order to be seen of men, our giving is rendered invalid. If we pray so as to impress those who hear us pray, then, like the Pharisee of whom Jesus spoke, we are simply praying to ourselves. If we fast in order to impress men with our devotion and sacrificial dedication, then we have failed to “take heed” to the words of our Master.

Second, there is great danger in seeking to please men when it comes to the exercise of our religion. Those like myself who are blessed to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ have learned over the years that you cannot satisfy all men when it comes to the manner and style in preaching. While constructive criticism is invited, it is dangerous for a preacher (or teacher, or elder, etc.) to attempt to conform to some kind of style that will please all of those sitting in the audience. Paul asked a question that needs to be considered by all of us: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?” (Gal. 1:10a). Aesop tells the following humorous fable: A man and a boy were leading their donkey when a bystander criticized them for walking while the donkey had no load. The father put the son on the donkey, but another observer chided the son for riding while the father walked. The boy changed places with his father, but the next man they met scolded the father for riding while the boy walked. As a result both father and son got on the donkey to ride. However, a passerby rebuked them for being cruel to the donkey. In desperation they tied the donkey’s feet together and tried to carry him on a pole between them. This caused the critics to ridicule them more than ever so they let the donkey down on a bridge they were crossing, and untied his feet. The donkey, somewhat irritated for being tied up, then began to kick violently, fell into the river, and drowned.

Finally, those who seek to please men, and so engage in their religious duties as to be seen of them, will have no reward in heaven. Jesus tells us that “they have their reward.” In other words they did it to be seen of men, they have been seen of men, and that is all they need and all they get! But let us consider the reward that shall be ours when we are motivated to serve God for the sheer pleasure of pleasing Him. How can the earthly reward of human adulation even begin to compare with those words we shall hear when our Lord comes again: “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things” (Matt. 25:23). Someone once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Is it not much better to receive the reward our Lord shall give us – a reward that shall never perish – than to receive the praise of men that can, at best, be only temporary?

“Take heed!” The question comes to each of us, “Are you listening?”
~~~~~

While on the subject of whether or not we are listening, consider this antidote that I filed away more than 20 years ago:

A Native American and his friend were in downtown New York City, walking near Times Square in Manhattan. It was during the noon lunch hour and the streets were filled with people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, sirens were wailing, and the sounds of the city were almost deafening.  Suddenly, the Native American said, “I hear a cricket.”

His friend said, “What?  You must be crazy.  You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!”

“No, I'm sure of it,” the Native American said, “I heard a cricket.”

“That's crazy,” said the friend.

The Native American listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to a big cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the bushes, beneath the branches, and sure enough, he located a small cricket.  His friend was utterly amazed.

“That's incredible,” said his friend.  “You must have super-human ears!”

“No,” said the Native American. “My ears are no different from yours. It all depends on what you're listening for.”

“But that can't be!” said the friend. “I could never hear a cricket in this noise.”

“Yes, it’s true,” came the reply. “It depends on what is really important to you. Here, let me show you.”

He reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins, and discreetly dropped them on the sidewalk.  And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within twenty feet turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.

“See what I mean?” asked the Native American. “It all depends on what’s important to you.”